Tag: Research

Real meaning in a wolf’s howl.

Staying with the theme of communication.

I have often noticed how ideas come along and are then reinforced by other materials and comments.  This struck me (again) as follows. In my post about the fabulous, loving bond between Jeff Guidry and his eagle Freedom one of the comments was from Patrice Ayme, and I quote:

Birds have completely different brains. Still, the smartest birds are more clever than most primates. And many parrots speak (although we have not learned their language yet).

Then going on to add:

Parrot language studies have progressed enough to tell us that there is something huge going on. They apparently use names, as dolphins do.

Certainly Jean would verify the amount of talking that goes on between our two budgerigars here at home!

Mr. Green and Mr. Blu!
Mr. Green and Mr. Blu!

Then in yesterday’s post The knowing of dogs, I referred to research that indicated that empathy between those that we know and trust, (a) can be measured, and (b) that “our minds are partly defined by their intersections with other minds.”  I went on in that post to speculate that maybe dogs ‘reading’ the minds of humans that they know and trust wasn’t so far-fetched.

Then along comes this from ScienceDaily:

Wolves Howl Because They Care: Social Relationship Can Explain Variation in Vocal Production

Aug. 22, 2013 — When a member of the wolf pack leaves the group, the howling by those left behind isn’t a reflection of stress but of the quality of their relationships. So say researchers based on a study of nine wolves from two packs living at Austria’s Wolf Science Center that appears in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on August 22.

The findings shed important light on the degree to which animal vocal production can be considered as voluntary, the researchers say.

“Our results suggest the social relationship can explain more of the variation we see in howling behavior than the emotional state of the wolf,” says Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. “This suggests that wolves, to a certain extent, may be able to use their vocalizations in a flexible way.”

Scientists have known very little about why animals make the sounds that they do. Are they uncontrollable emotional responses? Or do animals have the ability to change those vocalizations based on their own understanding of the social context?

At the Wolf Science Center, human handlers typically take individual wolves out for walks on a leash, one at a time. On those occasions, they knew, the remaining pack mates always howl.

To better understand why, Range and her colleagues measured the wolves’ stress hormone levels. They also collected information on the wolves’ dominance status in the pack and their preferred partners. As they took individual wolves out for long walks, they recorded the reactions of each of their pack mates.

Those observations show that wolves howl more when a wolf they have a better relationship with leaves the group and when that individual is of high social rank. The amount of howling did not correspond to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Our data suggest that howling is not a simple stress response to being separated from close associates but instead may be used more flexibly to maintain contact and perhaps to aid in reuniting with allies,” Range says.

For those that want to read the original research paper then it is available over at Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

Wolf Howling Is Mediated by Relationship Quality Rather Than Underlying Emotional Stress


Francesco MazziniSimon W. TownsendZsófia VirányiFriederike Range

  • Highlights
  • We investigated the influence of social and physiological factors on wolf howling
  • Wolves howl more to keep contact with affiliated partners and with pack leaders
  • Howling is mediated by the social relationship not cortisol level of the howlers
  • This pattern indicates that wolves have some voluntary control of their howling


While considerable research has addressed the function of animal vocalizations, the proximate mechanisms driving call production remain surprisingly unclear. Vocalizations may be driven by emotions and the physiological state evoked by changes in the social-ecological environment [1,2], or animals may have more control over their vocalizations, using them in flexible ways mediated by the animal’s understanding of its surrounding social world [3,4]. While both explanations are plausible and neither excludes the other, to date no study has attempted to experimentally investigate the influence of both emotional and cognitive factors on animal vocal usage. We aimed to disentangle the relative contribution of both mechanisms by examining howling in captive wolves. Using a separation experiment and by measuring cortisol levels, we specifically investigated whether howling is a physiological stress response to group fragmentation [5] and whether it is driven by social factors, particularly relationship quality [6,7]. Results showed that relationship quality between the howler and the leaving individual better predicted howling than did the current physiological state. Our findings shed important light on the degree to which animal vocal production can be considered as voluntary.

So, don’t know about you, but it all seems to be suggesting how little we know about how animals communicate with the world around them.

Be part of research into animal communication.

A request from Dr. Rupert Sheldrake.

Dr. Sheldrake has been very regularly mentioned on Learning from Dogs, the most recent time was last year in a post called Brain-to-brain communication.

Jean and I have been involved in a research programme involving our own dogs here at home.  So far, without much success.  But it occurred to me that there may be readers who would like to participate.  So here’s an email in response to my offer to post something in this place.

Companion Animal Research Group

Pam Smart and I are setting up a Companion Animal Research Group for people who would like to do research with their dogs, cats or other animals. If you have an animal that knows when you are coming home or who seems to respond to your thoughts and intentions telepathically, and if you would like to take part in a simple research project, please get in touch with Pam by email: p.e.smart (at) btinternet (dot) com She will send you further details.

Of course, if you do have such a telepathic animal then they will know about this post before you do! 😉

The Denial of Science: A review.

A review of the recently published book by Martin Lack.

denial of science

In many ways it would be terribly easy to find fault with this book. If it had been written as a book, been through the edits that a new book requires, then published, those faults would be a significant criticism.

But it was not written as a book! It was originally written as an academic text.  As Martin explains in the Preface:

This book is based on research originally undertaken – and a dissertation written – as part of my MA in Environmental Politics from Keele University in Staffordshire (in 2010-2011).

Then in the following paragraph goes on to say:

Academics generally disapprove of the publication of academic research via non-academic, non-peer-reviewed routes.  However, I am trying to reach more than just an academic audience.

Three sentences later:

However, this book retains many of the features of a piece of academic research, …. (All quotes from page viii of the preface)

To a person unaccustomed to reading academic research, as is this reader, the structural and presentational differences between a ‘normal’ non-fiction book and a dissertation are significant.  That needs to be borne in mind as you turn to page one.

OK, now that I have got that off my chest, on to the substance of the review.

Turning to the outside back cover, one sees Martin clearly explaining that the book is not about climate science, rather an analysis of why some people dispute “the reality, reliability and reasonableness of this science.”

That alone justifies the work that Martin put into his research and dissertation and his subsequent decision to adapt his findings into a book.

The pace and scale of the changes that are being visited on Planet Earth is truly frightening.  The number of feedback loops that we are locked into now don’t even bear thinking about.  Just take the continuing and accelerating loss of the Arctic ice-cap and extrapolate that for a couple of decades (touched on in my recent post More new tomorrows and see footnote.)

We are not talking of subtle changes over many generations. We are talking about irreversible and irrevocably massive changes to our environment within the lifetimes of just about every living person on this planet.  (I’m 70 next year and while I have no idea how many years I have left, I rate it as at least 50:50 that before I take my last breath, the coming destruction of biosphere will be blindingly obvious to me, Jean and 99.9% of the world’s population.)

Makes me want to shout out ……

There is not much time left to leave a sustainable world for future generations.  Come on politicians and power-brokers; start acting as though you truly understand the urgency of the situation!

Ah, that feels much better!

Back to the book!

Martin examines 5 categories that display denial behaviours, to a greater or lesser extent.  These categories are: Organisations; Scientists, Economists, Journalists and Politicians. Oh, and a 6th catch-all category: Others.

Each section dealing with a category is structured in the same way: Preliminary Research; Key Findings and Summary.  Tables are used extensively to allow easy review of the findings.

Again, what needs to be hammered out is that this format is very unlike a typical non-fiction book.  Because it’s fundamentally an academic dissertation!  But, so what!

What is important is for the widest possible audience to understand the breadth and extent of the denial going on.  Denial that is, literally, playing with the future of humanity on this planet; the only home we have.

Let me reinforce that last sentence by picking up on what Martin writes on his closing page (p.76):

Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism is being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of “business as usual” by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of ACD.

Martin Lack’s book may be unconventional in many ways.  But as a tool to show how those who deny the science of climate change deny the right of future millions to live in a sustainable manner, it is most powerful.  It is a valuable reference book that should be in every library and every secondary school across the globe!

The Denial of Science is published by AuthorHouse 02/23/2013



  1. To add weight to the points made in this review, do look in on tomorrow’s post.
  2. I have no commercial links to Martin Lack; indeed, I purchased the copy of the book that I used for this review.