Looking inside the minds of our pets - and our relationships with them
Delving into animals' minds - and our relationships with them - Claudia Hammond wonders whether our pets care if we get hurt. Would a dog - or even a cat - give a monkey's if their owner fell over? Researchers like Dr Karen Hiestand are keen to explore the differences between canine and feline reactions. At the University of Sussex she works in the field of anthrozoology - analysing the relationship between humans and other animals. In one study she asked dog and cat owners to feign injury, setting up small cameras in their homes to monitor reactions, hoping to find out if the pet have empathy. We hear about the initial findings.
For years our understanding of animals was limited by attitudes like that of Descartes who thought they were merely machines made of flesh. Charles Darwin famously wrote in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals that animal minds only differed from our own by degree, not in kind. Today some of the methods scientists use to measure animal responses are adapted from studies on children who've not yet learned to talk.
Mental health campaigner and All in the Mind Awards judge Marion Janner used to take her support dog Buddy wherever she was went, whether it was onto mental health wards or into the BBC studios. Marion says she helped to keep her safe during crises related to her borderline personality disorder because she knew she couldn't do anything which prevented her from looking after Buddy. Last year when Buddy died Marion gained comfort from her other dogs and an aquarium filled with fish.
On a walk in the park, we hear how Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy Polly has similarly helped her owner Sam to come to terms with the death of her previous dog Margo. The whole family was devastated by the loss and put a large plant where Margo's bed used to be because the room felt so empty. The Blue Cross for Pets charity offers support to anyone who's lost a pet - on the phone and online. We hear from their Bereavement and Loss Support Service manager Diane James about it can affect people as profoundly as human loss.
Cats have had a bit of an image problem - as the recent headline "How to Tell if Your Cat is a Psychopath" shows. Karen Hiestand says their apparent aloofness and accusations of laziness arise because we forget that they are solitary creatures, descended from wildcats who hunt and then sleep it off. She hopes the explosion in cat research will help us to understand our feline friends better.
Fish Oils for depression, Pain pleasure and a good life, Kindness, Comedy memory
Fish oil supplements are often touted as good for your heart health, but a new study finds they may also help fight depression. Alessandra Borsini of King’s College London has been examining the impact of these omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the lab and has followed up with a promising trial on severely depressed patients. She discusses how and why this might prove useful for those for whom current antidepressants don’t make a difference.
Does a good life involve more than just pleasure? Could suffering be essential too? The psychologist and author Paul Bloom argues in a new book called The Sweet Spot that the activities that provide the most satisfaction are often the ones that involve the greatest sacrifice or suffering and how embracing a balance between the two is the key to a life well lived.
Claudia’s guest is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Catherine Loveday of University of Westminster, who launches a new study on our memory for comedy - investigating whether various types of comedy could be applied in a way that music is increasingly being used in therapy.
Producer Adrian Washbourne
Produced in association with the Open University
The power of expectation, Buildings and neurodiversity, Music therapy for Parkinson's
The Expectation Effect. Claudia talks to science journalist David Robson about how our reality can be changed by our beliefs, from being able to see more clearly in bright sun if we believe we are wearing good quality sunglasses to getting long lasting pain relief from a placebo labelled exactly as that. Claudia talks about new guidelines from the British Standards Institute on buildings and neurodiversity. Called 'Design for the Mind', Jill Hewitt from Buro Happold and Jilly Corbyn from the National Development Team for Inclusion discuss the impact design features like lighting and sound can have on neurodivergent people and the best ways to design buildings so they are a relaxing environment for everyone. Also in the programme, how scientists are showing how the fine motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease like writing or cutting are benefitting from musical therapy. Claudia discusses the research with Isabelle Buard from University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Earworms in sleep, body sensations and image, Louis Wain exhibition
Many people listen to music for hours every day, and often near bedtime in the hope of a good night’s sleep. But if you can’t get the tune out of your head could this be counter-productive? In new research, neuropsychologist Michael Scullin of Baylor University has looked at the rarely studied effect of these so called earworms, offering new insights into the way music is processed in our brain during sleep and effect music has on both sleep quality and quantity.
There’s growing evidence that signals sent from our internal organs to the brain play a major role in regulating emotions and fending off anxiety and depression. Claudia meets Dr Jane Aspell of Anglia Ruskin University who’s found that the strength of the connection between our brain and internal organs is linked to how we feel about our appearance – and could in future act as a biomarker to help identify, or even predict, negative body image and its related conditions.
And Claudia visits a new exhibition examining the work of the hugely popular Edwardian illustrator Louis Wain. His playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public's perception of cats As a patient at the Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital he continued to produce many drawings of gleeful and often outlandish creatures, and his body of work demonstrated the therapeutic and restorative effect that closeness with animals can have on a person’s mental health.
Claudia’s studio guest is Professor Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Stomach pains and eating disorders and post-Olympic blues.
The risk of a teenager developing an eating disorder appears to increase if they had tummy pains in childhood, according to new research from the University of Oxford. Data from families in the Bristol area who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children helped to identify children who had abdominal pains as well as teenagers who went on to fast to lose weight aged 16. In the International Journal of Eating Disorders, Dr Kate Stein says there is an association between tummy pains aged 7 and 9 and an increased risk of developing anorexia. The paediatric psychiatrist believes that stomach pains or even normal gut sensations can lead a child to fear food, sometimes avoiding it altogether. Researchers in Sweden have created an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme which Dr Stein hopes could be adapted and brought to the UK to help children who would otherwise have to wait a long time for support.
Athletes coming back from competing can experience the slump that’s been called the post-Olympic Blues. Even gold medallists aren’t immune to feeling lost or depressed after they return home and some have been known to try to deal with their feelings by partying hard instead of seeking psychological support. New research carried out by bronze medal winning pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw has shown that athletes would rather talk to former-Olympians than sports psychologists about any difficulties they’ve been having. Co-author Karen Howells, a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Cardiff Metropolitan University, was surprised that the athletes preferred to open up to a former Olympian – but says that experts like her could provide training and support to those mentors.
Senior Lecturer in Mental Health at the Open University Mathijs Lucassen who's a co-author on the post-Olympic blues study likens the aftermath of a Games to the period after a wedding, following months of planning, emotional and financial investment. Mathijs also discusses with Claudia a study which looked at the impact that ready-prepared food kits can have on family meals in Australia and how sweet snacks might reduce our enjoyment of music.