expression of emotions in humans and animals
After rocking the world with On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin used his self-proclaimed talent for ‘noticing things which easily escape attention’ to develop The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). It took over a century for academics to embrace his thoughts on what would become an important element of evolutionary psychology, the newfound bedrock for modern psychology.
My initial exposure to this emerging field came two decades ago as Dr. Paul Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS) was being applied to counterespionage. FACS is based on Darwin’s hypotheses about expressions, so the book was required reading for those on the project. Ekman was later portrayed as Dr. Cal Lightman in Lie to Me (Imagine TV, 20th Century Fox) and he made significant contributions to the current edition of The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Oxford University Press, 1998).
Known for Darwin’s detailed illustrations, the book introduces a conceptual framework for understanding body language. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone interested in interpreting their pet’s feelings (emotions), what’s on a colleague’s mind or a stranger’s masked intentions. While it’s not a field guide for face-to-face encounters with predators, readers are introduced to the concept of universality of emotions and expressions across the animal kingdom. The resulting empathy can open windows into the wild psyche.
Most predator sightings don’t result in a close encounter and most close encounters consist of no more than a passing glance without a break in stride. When a face-to-face encounter does unfold, curiosity (an emotion oddly left unexplored in Darwin’s book) and anxiety are usually operative emotions expressed with eye contact, erect ears and cautious light-footed movements. To mitigate potentially imminent risk requires constant assessment of motive and mental state, then communicating with appropriate body language to hopefully manage behavior. The traffic cop’s outstretched open hand has proven amazingly effective in halting a predator’s curious approach on many occasions.
Encounters motivated by predation are much rarer and require more assertive tactics. Reduced anxiety and reluctance to heed hand gestures and scolding followed by repeated flanking maneuvers are clear indications of predatory intent. Then as potential prey, the objective becomes exercising best available lines of defense, like pepper spray or lancing the front quarters with a pole or branch. Stand your ground until signs of predatory intentions subside, then begin a slow and watchful retreat to safety.
Topology and other spacial contexts must also be taken into account: proximity, avenues of escape, cover and blind spots, boundaries formed by rivers and hillsides, a rock in the bear trail to avoid tripping over and the whereabouts of all of mother’s cubs as you focus intensely on dialog with her. Finding yourself between a mother and her cub(s) can invite a charge.
So it pays to have those emotional intelligence and spacial awareness apps online and on the lookout for ‘things which easily escape attention’. And don’t run! It triggers an attack response in apex predators.