Friday, June 08, 2007

Sociability and Behavioral Diversity

I just found an interesting introduction to a section on cat behavior in the book Treatment of Behavior Problems in Dogs and Cats which states that cats appear to have greater diversity in behavioral patterns than dogs. I don't know if this is true, but it's an interesting idea.
I've also noticed that autistics are very diverse in behavior patterns. Obviously, this is most likely for somewhat different reasons, but I wonder if decreased sociability may cause greater behavioral diversity? Here are some suggestions as to how:
  • Firstly, decreased sociability may have a direct effect of reducing imitation. Many autistics are less sensitive to peer pressure. Cats also seem to mimic other cats less than dogs do - for example, dogs often react to another dog barking by barking themselves, whereas cats only seem to mimic other cat's sounds if they are exposed to the same kind of eliciting factor, such as an unfamiliar cat. And this is often not imitative, because they're likely to growl just as much at a silent opponent. Another example is cats meowing in fear in the car - several cats doing the same thing, but each would make that same sound if they were alone in the car ride or the other cat was silent.
  • Secondly, even if they are quite imitative, spending more time alone reduces opportunities to observe the behavior of others. Also, their environments are likely to be more variable, for example all the kids in a class experience the same lighting while someone in another room is under different lights.
  • Thirdly, on an evolutionary basis, populations that are more socially cohesive, especially those with a lot of cooperative behavior, need fairly effective communication between different individuals. Therefore, the behavioral outliers may be selected against because they have more difficulty understanding and being understood by the others. In support of this theory, the areas where cats act most similar are in interactions with unfamiliar cats, such as mating and fighting. Their everyday behavior is more variable, because it's less important to be easily understood (of course, hunting is pretty similar too, but that's because they hunt the same sorts of creatures). As a side note, social outcasts may ally themselves with other social outcasts, even if they are quite different from each other. If this leads to reproduction, the resulting children are likely to be quite variable behaviorally.

On another topic, my pet rat Anja has some kind of stomach flu. She's been acting listless and not eating or drinking very well, her fur is ruffled and dull-looking, she's been shivering a lot and she has diarrhea. Currently, the vets are giving her fluids and cultivating her poop to figure out what's wrong. She'll most likely be sent home tonight with antibiotics and we'll get the results tomorrow. My other rat, Karana, is fine, but I brought her in as well in case she gets it as well, and to keep Anja company (rats are social creatures and don't like being alone).

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