Researcher says animals share core emotions

By Krista Starker, Staff Writer

It was standing room only in a small conference room Friday as Temple Grandin explained that all mammals share the same core emotions such as fear, rage, panic and seeking.

Grandin, a well-known researcher on cattle herding and autism, presented her lecture, “Animals and Autism,” at the Goodwill Humanitarian Building on Feb. 13, to students and researchers from the U and other universities.

“To animals, the world isn’t language based, it’s sensory, such as smell, touch and visual the same way autistic people do,” Grandin said. “Animals also notice details the same way that I do.”

Grandin, who is autistic, has become a successful designer of livestock handling equipment because of her understanding of animal behavior and attention to details. Her designs include non-slip flooring, curved cattle chutes and reduced lighting.

She developed these design elements to help keep the cattle calm so herders would not have to use cattle prods as often, resulting in fewer injuries to the cattle and better-quality meat.

Grandin said that in 1996, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a survey of how vocal cattle were at rough meat plants versus quiet handling plants like those Grandin has designed. The study found that cattle become more vocal when in pain.

“Good equipment makes good stockmanship easier,” Grandin said. “But it’s easier to invent new materials than it is to teach people to use them.”

She said that by analyzing the traits of different animals and looking at the core emotions, anyone can begin to understand their animals and work with them to overcome their fears.

Grandin gave an example of a horse that feared black cowboy hats but not white ones, and said that the horse was not crazy but most likely had been abused in the past by someone who wore a black cowboy hat.

“I have a dog that is scared of lightning and other loud sounds,” said Sven Larsen, a animation student at Salt Lake Community College. “It was interesting to see how some autistic people can have similar fears.”

Because of her success in livestock handling, HBO is producing a movie about Grandin’s life. Grandin will be played by actress Claire Danes. HBO has not set a date yet to release the movie.

[email protected]