The relation between animal and human communication

August 23, 2011 by
Filed under: Learn bodylanguage 

If you want to learn to read bodylanguage, observing animals is a good starting point. Humans and animals are much alike when it comes to subjects like territorial behaviour and behaviour in groups. Many of the insights into nonverbal communication have come from experiments and studying of animals. A type of animal behaviour that has long been termed instinctive is the fighting of dogs. When two male dogs meet they may react in a number of ways, but the most common is the snarling, snapping simulation of a fight to the death.

A person new to this behaviour will be alarmed and tries to seperate the dogs. The knowing dog owner simply watches, realizing how much of the fight is symbolic. This doesnt mean the fight isnt real, on the contrary, the dogs are competing for mastery. One will win, because he is more aggressive, perhaps stronger and with harder drives than the other. The fight is over at the point when both dogs realize that one is the victor, though no skin has been broken. Then a curious thing happens: the vanquished dog lies down, rolls over and exposes his throat to the victor.

To this surrender, the victor reacts by simply standing over the vanquished, baring his fangs and growling for a definite period of time. Then both leap away and the battle is forgotten.

In this example, a nonverbal procedure has been acted out. The vanquished dog says:”I concede. YOu are stronger then me and I bare my vulnerable throat to you”. The victor says:” Indeed, I am stronger and I will snarl and show that strenght, but now let’s get up and romp”.

It is a curious aside to note that in almost no species of higher animal does one member of the species kill another for any reason, though they might fight with each other for many reasons.

We must be careful thou in studying any behaviour in the animal world not to generalize. What is true for one species is not at all true for another. What is true for animals is not necessarily true for men. The symbolic battling of dogs is believed by many scientists to be an inherited thing, thou there are many theories that assure that this behaviour is learned.

“Watch a mother dog when her cubs are scrapping. If one is triumphant and tries to carry out his victory to the point of damaging the other, the mother will immediately cuff him into neutrality, teaching him to respect the defeat of his brother”. Therefor alot of people think that symbolic behaviour is learned.

It is difficult to pinpoint just how much of any system of communication is inherited and how much is learned. Not all behaviour is learned, any more than it is inherited, even in humans.

Animal behaviour in groups

Animals who live in groups, like monkeys and apes, establish dominance hierarchies. The dominance of an animal depends partly on its size and strength, and also on the outcome of actual fights or of threat displays. Various dominance questions, such as access to food and females, are settles by threat displays between pairs of males. Usually they do not fight, but simply make terrifying displays at one another. These threats displays consists of a number of non verbal signals like facial expression (bared teeth, lowered eyebrows, staring eyes), posture (head lowered, forelegs bent, swaying), movement (slow approach) and vocalization (barking or grunting or other loud noises).

With humans, we see the same happening when we look at the groups we move around in. Take for example a group of friends. One person is commonly seen as the ‘leader’. He may got this position dependant on a number of factors. A group in a prison has other behaviour codes than an group of friends that meets weekly in a bar. Depending on the social layer you are in, other functions and talents may come across. The same goes with animals; monkeys and apes are a great subject for study, because man and monkey arent that different when it comes to nonverbal communication, but more on that later.

The sense of territory.

One thing that is inherited genetically is the sense of territory. We know man has a sense of territory, a need for a shell of territory around him. This varies from the tight close shell of a city dweller through the larger bubble of yard and home in the suburbanite to the wide open spaces the country man enjoys.

The same can be seen with animals. For some species the territories are temporary, shifiting with each season. For other animal species they are permanent. There is a theory that describes an innate code of behaviour in the animal world that ties sexual reproduction to territoial defence. The key to the code is territory, and the territorial imperative is the drive in animals and men to take, hold and defend a certain area.

We don’t know how much space is necessary for any individual man, but what is important in the study of body language is what happens to any individual man when his shell of space or territory is threatened or breached. How does he respond and how does he defend it, or how does he yield? No matter how crowded the area in which we humans live, each of us maintains a zone or territory around us, an inviolate area we try to keep for our own. How we defend this area and how we react to invasion of it, as well as how we encroach into other territories, can all be observed and charted and in many cases used constructively. These are all elements of nonverbal communication. This guarding of zones is one of the first basic principles. How we guard our zones and how we agress to other zones is an integral part of how we realte to other people.


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