Anthrompism according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is: an Interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics. Humanization. Something I think about just about almost every day is anthrompism, partly because I find it quite fascinating to ponder the differences between the way humans take in the worlds versus animals but mostly because I work with horses and to be effective with them and others who want learn about them it’s important to understand these differences. One big difference between animals and humans is language, since we are able to formulate language we are able to put together memories and time frames much better as well as critical thinking and future planning. I remember when I was in college my English professor told me about how she had worked with women who couldn’t read and because they couldn’t read they didn’t have a concept of time. The way that their memories worked was much different, they weren’t able to remember things in quite as clear a timeframe. It blew my mind and I wondered if not being able to read affects intelligent humans who are fluent in their native language how must animals be effected from not being able to form a language at all (of course aside from body language)? Because animals don't have a "language" they live much more in the moment then we do, particularly horses. When the human brain processes something our Thalamus collects the incoming sights, sounds, smells ect, then the basal ganglia prepares body for movement, finally and most importantly our prefrontal cortex steps in and analyzes what action we’ll take. With a horse the first two steps happen but the third doesn’t because they don’t have a prefrontal cortex! This means that when they do something it is just a reaction, there is no “thinking” or “planning” before the action. In humans the prefrontal cortex proportion of the brain is 33%, monkeys %15, dogs and cats %5, horses… %0. As prey animals they don’t need the skill of critical thought they just need good social skills with the herd and the ability to react fast and flee when needed. The way they are built is entirely different psychologically and physically so there is no logic in comparing them to humanistic thoughts or characteristics at all. This being said it doesn’t mean they aren’t smart in their own way just as each animal is. They are very good learners and pick up on knowledge from Association, Observation, Problem solving, Emotion and testing. We use the same type of learning but add forethought, cognition, judgement, planning and fear of embarrassment. Horses are great learners because they don’t have the extra emotional baggage, they are always learning whether we’re trying to teach them something or not which is kind of a scary thought. An easy example is if you’re going to feed your horse in a stall and they start banging on the wall with their hoof they will associate that action with getting food whether it’s our intention or not. A challenge for us humans in trying to teach horses is an issue with how our brains are built, unfortunately it takes our brains longer to search for the absence of something rather then the presence of something including naughty behavior. Humans rely on presence rather than absence likely due to memory and evolution, there’s a lot of reasons we would want to notice the presence of fruit on a tree and other food sources but it’s not as vital to notice the absence. This is why we all know people or have been people who do their best but get in trouble for the smallest little things they do wrong but no praise for the things that they work so hard to get right whether it’s at work or interpersonal relationships. It just stands out to us more if something is wrong versus the absence of it. As it relates to horses and horse training is when we are working on relieving a bad behavior we have to make sure we praise them when they do ditch it. Horses are reactors. They react to things and their attention spans aren’t particularly long. On the flip side we humans have the ability to be much more focused, there was a study where humans were asked to watch basketball players pass a ball and say how many times it was passed , during the video a man in a gorilla suit came and stood in the middle of the court but few people noticed because they were so focused. Equines do not have these sort of focusing skills but their skills to quickly react far trump ours. In short, human brains are driven by goals and horse brains by stimulus making them quite different. This is why trying to humanize them or getting our feelings hurt by them is absurd. Horses have no sense of embarrassment, jealousy or humor or any want to anger us, sadden us or upset us. They are simply just reacting to us and their surroundings. I look at it as a positive thing, understanding more about the in and outs or how an animal functions differently from us lets us understand them better and makes it harder to get frustrated at anthropomorphic thoughts like “my horse was trying to hurt my feelings”, “they did that because they didn’t love me”, they’re doing that to annoy me” ect. I have a lot more to say about this and plan to write it in chunks so it’s not a novel. I have become much more aware of how prominent this issue is after reading Equitation Science by Andrew Mclean and Horse Brain Human brain by Janet Jones, between the two is where I got all of my information to write this and I highly recommend them. Obviously, we all love our pets but their world is different then ours and comparing human emotions and thoughts isn’t fair for either of us.
Side note: an interesting word I learned a couple months ago from reading Equitation Science is umwelt, umwelt is a German word meaning surroundings or environment. It's morphed into a different meaning, in a nutshell the word means how you or any animal perceive the world based on their surroundings who they are, how they are raised, where they are raised, genetics, environment ect. A honeybee’s umwelt is going to be much different then a golden retreiver’s, a babies is going to be much different then an adult ect. The first known use for this translation was in a 1934 book A Foray into the Worlds of animals and humans, which was a book about humans being aware of the natural world and multispecies different perceptions.
Jones, Janet L. Horse Brain, Human Brain the Neuroscience of Horsemanship. Trafalgar Square, 2020. McGreevy, Paul. Equitation Science. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2018.