DEFINITIONS OF SOME KEY TERMS:
Blog posts on the Why Animals Do the Thing Tumblr are written with lots of field-specific vocabulary - here's a short glossary of some of the frequently used terms.
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Behavioral Science Terms:
The belief (often inherent and subconscious) that humans are the most significant species on earth; that humans and human experience is best, more important, of higher value, and more moral than that of animals; assessment of reality through a human-centric lens.
The act of attributing human experience (e.g., mental state, emotions, conscious choice, logical thought) to non-human animals.
The inherent human tendency to want to connect in an empathetic manner with non-human living things.
“The ability of a living thing to feel, perceive, and experience subjectively.” (Source) This can include but is not limited to nor does not necessarily contain: emotions, self-awareness, logical and procedural reasoning, conscious thought.
In animals, the conference of ‘personhood’ to a nonhuman; accompanied by the implicit assumption of anthropocentric worldview; experiences of the non-human animal assumed to be analogous to those of humans under the same stimuli.
Training / Behavior Modification Terms:
CLASSICAL CONDITIONING = Developing an association between initially neutral stimuli and biologically important stimuli (google Pavlov’s dogs). E.g. Dogs salivating in anticipation of food.
OPERANT CONDITIONING = An animal’s behavior operates on the environment to produce a good, bad, or neutral result. Animal learns from successes and failures. E.g. Positive and negative reinforcement.
HABITUATION = Getting used to a stimulus that once elicited a greater response by the animal.E.g. A horse becoming less fearful of traffic noises after it has been turned out in a field next to a road.
SENSITIZATION = Becoming more responsive to a once neutral stimulus. E.g. A horse becoming fearful of traffic after a negative experience with it.
POSITIVE (X): Adding something to increase or decrease a behavior.
NEGATIVE (X): Removing something to increase or decrease a behavior.
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT = A stimulus is added to reward a desired behavior. Encourages that behavior to happen more frequently. This is the basis of clicker training. E.g. dog sits on command, receives a treat.
NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT = A stimulus is removed to reward a desired behavior. Encourages that behavior to happen more frequently. Often used in terms of scary thing going way or an unpleasant stimulus stopping. E.g. squeezing a horse forward, stop squeezing once it is moving OR backing away from an animal that is allowing you to be close even though it is uncomfortable.
POSITIVE PUNISHMENT = A stimulus is added as a consequence for a behavior. Encourages the behavior to happen less frequently. Often used to “discipline” animals for “doing something wrong.” E.g. using the whip on a horse as a punishment for bucking.
NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT = A stimulus is removed as a consequence for a behavior. Encourages the behavior to happen less frequently. Is not necessarily “bad” - often represents “natural consequences”. E.g. removing yourself from play when a dog is being too rough.
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Rachel is an educator and animal science writer. With prior professional experience in zookeeping, visitor education, shelter behavior management, and more, she works to translate pertinent field-specific knowledge into comprehensive explanations about current animal related topics.