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Common Reading 2020: Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

"Animals in Translation"

"I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out wild animals are more curious than domestic animals overall"

—Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

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Answer to the Picture Riddle Challenge: Butterfly!

Author: Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Temple Grandin - Biologist, Scientist - Biography

Temple Grandin is an American professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She has had a successful career consulting on livestock handling equipment design and animal welfare. In addition to teaching, she is also a prominent author and speaker on both animal behavior and autism. 

 

Catherine Johnson, Ph.D. is the co-author of Animals in Translation, a book that explores neurological similarities between people on the autism spectrum and animals. mother of two children with autism, Johnson is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism and a former trustee for the National Alliance for Autism Research. 

Introduction: Erin Rhinehart

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Dr. Erin Rhinehart is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience in the Biology Department at Susquehanna University. She enjoys teaching students challenging concepts about the brain and nervous system interactively and showing them how complicated scientific information applies to their daily lives. Outside of the classroom, she’s interested in researching sex differences in the vulnerability to addiction, martial arts and facilitating public science literacy. 

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How do desires shape how people and animals do things?

2. How can the science presented in this text be applied to humans?

3. What are the implications of the authors ideas brought up in the text, and what meaning to you specifically take from it?

Introduction

Temple Grandin discusses how curiosity supports survival and the brain systems that generate this emotional state and the accompanying behaviors. She explains how curiosity stimulates the brain to cause “seeking” behavior that animals get what they need to survive, like a mate, shelter, or food. Do you agree with the author that curiosity is a necessary emotional state that ensures survival? 

The interpretation of most animal research experiments related to understanding “reward” circuits in the brain conducted long ago have recently been updated. Rather than drugs and other things that activate a “pleasure” circuit in the brain, Grandin claims they are stimulating curiosity-related circuits to enhance excitement and interest. Why does she consider this an important shift in how we interpret research in fields like addiction? 
Grandin proposes that the seeking system is inclined to prefer novelty, and that newness is pleasurable in general. She also quotes someone saying, “I don’t like new things but I like new stuff”. Do you see evidence of such a tendency in your own behaviors or preferences? 

Curiosity affects the learning process due to everyone’s built-in confirmation bias. We assume that events that happen one right after another share a cause-and-effect relationship. She explains how this bias can then lead to a variety of superstitious like behaviors, even in animals. Can you think of when you inferred a causal relationship between two events that wasn’t exactly accurate? What advantages does confirmation bias give us in terms of learning to adapt to our environment? How might confirmation bias negatively affect our ability to function effectively in modern society? 

—Erin Rhinehart

Additional Resources

National Fair Use Week: Top 5 things you should know | Arts & Culture

Normal Development of Brain Circuits

"Spanning functions from the simplest reflex arc to complex cognitive processes, neural circuits have diverse functional roles. In the cerebral cortex, functional domains such as visual processing, attention, memory, and cognitive control rely on the development of distinct yet interconnected sets of anatomically distributed cortical and subcortical regions."

Understanding Animal Behavior

"The study of animal behavior is a cornerstone of experimental psychology, shedding light on how animals interact with each other and their environments, and why they behave the way they do. By studying animal behavior, humans can learn more about their own behavior—a field known as comparative psychology."

Classroom Activities

1. Have students write down what the "Seeking state" means to them and their life. Talk over responses as a class.

2. Have students discuss how their pets are similar or different from what's brought in the text.