Thinking the Way Animals Do


| 11/28/2012 2:30:00 PM


Tags: Seven Springs 2012, Guest Post, Homesteading, Temple Grandin, Animals, Autism, Training, Temple Grandin,

 As a person with autism, it is easy for me to understand how animals think because my thinking processes are like an animal's. Autism is a neurological disorder that some people are born with. Scientists who study autism believe that the disorder is cause d by immature development of certain brain circuits, and over development of other brain circuits. Autism is a complex disorder that ranges in severity from a mild form (such as mine), to a very serious handicap where the child never learns to talk. The movie Rain Man depicts a man with a fairly severe form of the disorder. 

Temple Grandin with cowsI have no language-based thoughts at all. My thoughts are in pictures, like videotapes in my mind. When I recall something from my memory, I see only pictures. I used to think that everybody thought this way until I started talking to people on how they thought. I learned that there is a whole continuum of thinking styles, from totally visual thinkers like me, to the totally verbal thinkers. Artists, engineers, and good animal trainers are often highly visual thinkers, and accountants, bankers, and people who trade in the futures market tend to be highly verbal thinkers with few pictures in their minds. 

Most people use a combination of both verbal and visual skills. Several years ago I devised a little test to find out what style of thinking people use: Access your memory on church steeples. Most people will see a picture in their mind of a generic "generalized" steeple. I only see specific steeples; there is no generalized one. Images of steeples flash through my mind like clicking quickly through a series of slides or pictures on a computer screen. On the other hand, highly verbal thinkers may "see" the words "church steeple," or will "see" just a simple stick-figure steeple. 

A radio station person I talked to once said that she had no pictures at all in her mind. She thought in emotions and words. I have observed that highly verbal people in abstract professions, such as in trading stocks or in sales, often have difficulty understanding animals. Since they only think in words, it is difficult for them to imagine that an animal can think. I have found that really good animal trainers will see more detailed steeple pictures. It is clear to me that visual thinking skills are essential to horse training, but often the visual thinkers do not have the ability to verbalize and explain to other people what it is they "see."  

Associative Thinking 

A horse trainer once said to me, "Animals don't think, they just make associations." I responded to that by saying, "If making associations is not thinking, then I would have to conclude that I do not think." People with autism and animals both think by making visual associations. These associations are like snapshots of events and tend to be very specific. For example, a horse might fear bearded men when it sees one in the barn, but bearded men might be tolerated in the riding arena. In this situation the horse may only fear bearded men in the barn because he may have had a bad past experience in the barn with a bearded man. 




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