Saturday, April 30, 2011

Notes from a conference Part 2: Psychological Aspects of Abuse and Neglect

This is part 2 of a 4-part transcription of my notes from an IAABC conference. Part 1 is here. Keep in mind that these are transcribed notes, and thus don't really read as a blog post so much as a series of musings.

Warning: This is going to be a pretty sad one, being about animal abuse/neglect and PTSD and such. Skip it if you feel it will upset you, as that is not my intention. The next couple of posts will be a lot shorter and a lot less depressing.


Psychological Aspects of Abuse and Neglect
by Dr. Frank McMillan

Boredom and loneliness are responses to a lack of stimulation, and are involuntary. They are a form of emotional suffering. But a major reason why we don't see these as a big deal in animals, or at least don't as a whole react as strongly to it, is because we have so much power to relieve it ourselves (e.g. we can just go find something to do if we get bored).

Physical abuse is visual, visceral, shocking; emotional is invisible, harder to recognize, has no visual imagery to elicit. It's not directly linked to death, and thus causes less concern.
There are anti-cruelty statutes against physical harm in several states, but no states have anti-cruelty statutes against emotional harm.

Maltreatment is defined as an action (abuse) or inaction (neglect) that threatens a dependent individual's welfare. Both can be physical or emotional, and there is no kind of abuse or neglect that does not have a psychological effect.

Studies have shown that social/emotional pain is derived from the same neural pathways as physical pain. We "feel" it with the same part of our brain.

What hurts more, physical pain or emotional/social pain? If forced to choose, animals will choose physical discomfort over emotional pain. Puppies will walk across an electrified grid to be with the person they've bonded with. Capuchin monkeys will choose social companionship over food. A mother rat will cross an electrified grid over 50 times to retrieve her pups.

The CIA training manual (an old version?) mentions that the pain from torture is not as bad as the fear of the pain of torture.

There is strong evidence to support that animals can feel anxiety, frustration, grief, loneliness, boredom, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, fear, and phobias. (personal note: embarrassment and guilt not on list)

Emotional Neglect

Emotional needs, such as companionship, have many of the properties of a physical need such as hunger. The needs vary widely depending on species, sex, etc, but there are universal ones: sense of control (feeling able to affect one's fate), sufficient living space, mental stimulation, sense of security (ability to escape in case of danger), social companionship, and predictability & stability to life events. Passively failing to meet these needs constitutes neglect.

Emotional Abuse

There is no clear set line at which keeping a dog in a crate turns into abuse; a dog's tolerance to being in a crate varies from individual to individual. If a dog has separation anxiety and suffers within five minutes of being in a crate, even though other dogs can be there comfortably for much longer, then it's abusive.

Types of emotional abuse: rejecting (with knowledge that the action causes harm), terrorizing (rule by fear), taunting (like at the end of tether or behind bars), isolating (preventing social interaction in social animals), abandonment (active desertion by caregiver), overpressuring (like Pavlov's oval dog) .

Emotional components play a role in all forms of abuse and neglect – fear, terror, anxiety, helplessness, etc. Emotional impact (trauma) outlasts injuries.


Comparing emotional neglect vs. neglect + physical abuse: emotional neglect by itself is more harmful, because the attention provided by the physical abuse mitigates the loneliness. E.g. those who misbehave for the negative attention, regardless of the pain of punishment.

It is difficult to distinguish, through psychological testing alone, between post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury. In both cases, aside from distress, your body is affected. Psychological testing alone, without a background story, can never determine whether abuse took place or not.

For example, it is a mistake to assume that if a dog is afraid of only men that it was abused by a man. It might mean that it has only ever had contact, negative or not, with women; or a multitude of other reasons.

Maltreatment sustained in early life actually has less long-term effects than in mature dogs. Maltreatment in adulthood, may cause serious mental illnesses; they recover a lot faster when younger.


Post a Comment