Do Emotions Affect Behaviour?
While it is useful in behavioural management to know the context or “the with whom, when and where” a pet displays their problem behaviour, the more important question to ask may be why? The “why” helps both vets and behavioural trainers plan long term management and allows owners to predict and avoid situations where their pet may become anxious.
The late neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, championed the belief that humans and their enormous cerebral cortex do not have a monopoly on emotions and his research supported the idea that emotions originate instead from the more primitive parts of the brain, the amygdala and thalamus/hypothalamus, that all animals share. Panksepp identified seven important emotional systems that affect all animals’ behaviour.
Emotional Motivational Systems
Frustration/Anger – This system is activated when an animal is prevented from achieving an expected outcome and is frequently activated in combination with other systems in behavioural problems.
Seeking/Desire – This system is involved in the seeking out of resources, such as food, shelter, comfort, water and also in general exploration and learning.
Fear/Anxiety – This system protects animals from actual or perceived threats to themselves or resources. The potential for pain from both external threats and pre-existing medical conditions is a strong behavioural motivator.
Social Play – This system promotes a positive emotional state and is activated in young dogs during socialisation.
Lust – Self-explanatory.
Care – Activated in late pregnancy this system involves maternal bonding and nurturing of the young.
Panic/Grief -This system is activated when pets are separated from their primary attachment figure and can give rise to separation issues and intense vocalisation or crying.
If behavioural problems are an outward expression of underlying emotional motivations that are strongly influenced by genetics and learning, and an individual’s level of emotional arousal and resilience affects their ability to recover from and accurately assess threats then identifying the systems involved will help solve the question of “why” they occured in the first place.
Milton Village Vet offers Complete Behavioural Solutions, combining a veterinary diagnosis with behavioural trainer management. Please ring the hospital for appointments.