This blog post is not being made to say humans behave in the same way animals behave but they aren’t far off. Humans are animals, we have genes which are transcribed based on the environmental factors around us just like “animals” do. We share recent common ancestors with EVERY other species at some point or another, so instead of avoiding or rejecting a similarity, we should wonder why that gene or set of genes has gotten as far as it has.
Researchers performed an experiment with male Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) individuals to observe what they would give up their juice for. Juice is very valuable to these monkeys and they will know if some has been removed or not. The researchers gave the monkeys the option of having a normal sized glass of juice or a smaller sized glass of juice but the oportunity to get a glimps of a picture of members of their troop. It was found that these monkeys would give up juice to look at primarily two different images, pictures of powerful males, and pictures of the perineum of female monkeys. Researchers believe the fitness of the individuals improves by knowing what the leaders of their troop are doing as well as what females are sexually receptive, even though it means giving up some of their juice. The researchers believe gosip magazines could be so popular stemming from this behavior as many humans are slightly obsessed with the lives of many celebrities.
Another example involving Rehsus macaque is a rather fascinating one, which may not be beneficial to the monkeys but makes up for it with entertainment. Duke neurobiologist Michael Platt performed a series of experiments with these monkeys involving a “safe” light and a “risk” light on a computer monitor. If the monkey was looking at the safe light, it would recieve the same amount of juice each trial, but if they were looking at the risk light they were given either more or less juice than the amount given for the safe light but these amount would average the same as the safe light over time. The monkeys prefered the gambling lifestyle, so the researchers began to lower the average amount of juice given for the risk light so it was lower than the safe light. Didn’t matter. The monkeys kept gambling and according to Platt, it seemed as though the monkeys got a high when getting a big reward, while mentioning the danger of anthropomorphizing.
A behavior seen observed in rodants that is often seen in humans is facial expressions based on pain. This study was performed to help studies in clinical applications to see how much pain rats are actually feeling by creating a grimace scale. While I don’t want to get too into the paper as it is primarily the technical aspects of how their system and procedures were done with specific equipment, their methods of determining pain are what interest me the most. Rats and humans have different facial structures, while we won’t see a rat’s jaw drop when it feels pain, they do have other features which can be used to express their pain. The described changes are orbital tightening which seems rather similar to squinting of the eyes, flattening of the nose and cheeks, folding of their ears, and their whiskers move further away from their face. These expressions aren’t seen in every mammal which makes this a really interesting way of using body language that many probably wouldn’t expect.
“Rat Grimace Scale” By Mogil, Jeffery Molecular Pain 2011
While it is tricky to look at the behaviors of some animals and not anthropomorphize, it gives a different persepective on our view of animals seeing behaviors similar to ours performed. We do have many similar genes to many animals because they were passed down from the individuals which possessed them because they had higher fitness than other individuals. While some believe humans are a “higher order”, maybe we should take another look at what the similarites and differences there are between us and other animals and we may find many more similarities than originally expected!