G.A. Bradshaw PhD, PhD

Bear in Mind

What's Love Got to Do with It?

The psychology of broken hearts

Posted Apr 01, 2010

Oh what's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken.
- TIna Turner [1]

Try this now at home, or if you are at work, sit back for a few minutes and imagine yourself chez vous trying to accomplish five small tasks:

(1) drink some water
(2) eat something
(3) pee
(4) go outside
(5) ask someone a question

. . . without using your hands or voice.

Any luck? Though undertaken here in a light-hearted way, these activities comprise key events in daily life. They are also things that any dog, cat, or other animal living with humans must do. However, unlike those of us fortunate to be able to do things on our own, animals in captivity must depend on their human caregiver. Bowls of water and food may be left out and a "pet" door or other contrivance may permit egress. However, vittles eventually get consumed and while a dog could pee inside the house, it is likely to be a short-lived solution.

The fact of the matter is these individuals are captive. Successful execution of basic bodily functions, hygiene, and survival itself of parrots, pythons, chickens, iguanas, fish, house rabbits - the panoply of species that are bought, sold, traded, rescued, and otherwise brought into the lairs of our homes-depend on humans.

And what about asking a question? Few would disagree that their dog or horse do not ask questions and convey emotions. Indeed, neuropsychology describes how humans and nonhuman animals share a well-greased system of communication. Animal-human exchange is a veritable Los Angeles freeway five o'clock rush. [2] "Do you want to go for a walk, Bruno?" "Does your foot hurt, Angel?" "Okay, okay, I get the message: let's have dinner." The majority of communiqués revolve around simple everyday Q & A, but others are voiceless, wordless exchanges through glance, touch, and a sensed connection. "I love you, too." However, do animals' queries get heard, let alone answered in voice or action? The answer is maybe yes, maybe no...ça depend.

All this discussion boils down to whether or not animals in captivity exercise agency-the ability to make decisions about one own life and act on them. Agency is a cornerstone concept in psychology. The idea is so sweeping in our modern/post-modern individualistic society that celebrated Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura calls for a "psychology of agency." [3] Our high regard for agency underlies the belief that people have an unalienable right to make choices and be masters or mistresses of their own destiny, a right moderated only by the socially-mediated proviso that no harm come to another. Aristotle asserted that we are the sum of our actions, actions made possible only by having agency.

According to Bandura, the ability to exercise the full spectrum of "sensory, motor, and cerebral systems as tools to accomplish tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction" is central to life. Individual vitality and identity, and, one might argue, the evolution of life itself, derive from being able to make one's way "successfully through a complex world full of challenges and hazards. . . make sound judgments about their capabilities, anticipate the probable effects of different events and courses of action, size up socio-structural opportunities and constraints, and regulate their behavior accordingly." [2]

All of which explains why incarceration is so pernicious. Not only does it prevent individual agency, or limit it to a very narrow band, but as a condition imposed without the prisoner's consent, forcible imprisonment constitutes an obliteration of that kernel of life we call "self." Capture and captivity of someone, finned, feathered, furred, or wearing plain skin, represents an attempt to annihilate the soul.

For decades, Lucy, the elephant has lived in a concrete lined exhibit in the chill of a Canadian zoo and Tillikum, the orca, swims within the confines of a glorified bathtub. Since infancy, these magnificent mammals, who neuroscientists confirm have emotional and psychological capacities rivaling those of humans [5,6], have lived in captivity. But their vital selves were created in the glory of verdant jungles, sparkling oceanic depths, terrifying lion roars and encircling sharks, joyous reunions with kith and kin, the drama of a starlit night and the scent of tantalizing unknown flowers and fish. La vita è nel tripudio! Life is celebration! [4]

Today within these spaces, their agency is limited to decisions whether to eat or move, obey their trainers, or not,. We are told that Lucy, Tillikum, and other animals in zoos are happy. Zookeepers, entertainment industrialists, and researchers also maintain that they love the animals with whom they work. [7] Tillikum's trainer, Dawn Brancheau, "loved whales like they were her own children." [8]

Nonetheless, we are hard pressed to think that our local Child Protective Services would accept this brand of mother love, that they would stand by watching a mother confine her son in a cell from infancy to adulthood, make her living by using him for public entertainment, and subject him to forced ejaculation to produce captive children. [9]

We are further informed that animals in captivity such as Tillikum "will refuse to cooperate...[and] will keep other orcas from performing. They will deliberately misbehave." Such naughtiness is "actually healthy because it gives orcas control, something fundamental to animal wellbeing. It's fun for skilled trainers, too." [10]

Despite glaring scientific theory and data documenting severe trauma in the likes of Tillikum and Lucy and the mounting numbers of associated human and animal deaths, those who make a living from animal suffering insist that "nothing in this situation challenges the value of...public exhibition of wild animals." [10]

We are told that the problem is "keeping humans safe while meeting the animals' needs". [10] However, when seen through the lens of psychology and common sense, the true problem is really "keeping animals safe while meeting the humans' needs".

"Love", "fun", and lucre for human captors, but captive hearts and souls wither and die. It looks like Tina Turner had it right—what does love have to do with it?

Gay Bradshaw is executive director of The Kerulos Center.

[1] Tina Turner. (1984). What's Love Got to Do with It? Private Dancer, Capitol Records.

[2] G.A. Bradshaw. Through the hedge: How science has us talking with the animals.  Psychology Today.

[3] Kate Valpi, Toward a psychology of human agency: Albert Bandura. APA Observer, 17(9)

[4] Giuseppe Verdi. Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici, from La Traviata. Featuring Teresa Stratas and Placido Domingo.

[5] Is it wrong to swim with dolphins? BBC News Magazine.

[6] Kevin Spear. How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine mammals. Orlando Sentinel, March 8, 2010.

[7] G.A. Bradshaw. Elephants on the Edge: What Animal Teach Us About Humanity, Yale University Press, 2009.

[8] Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld Trainer Killed. CBS Evening News.

[9] G.A. Bradshaw. The Woeful Whale: The Life and Times of Tillikum. Psychology Today.

[10] Tim Desmond, The Killer Whale Who Kills. New York Times, March 8, 2010.