14. Finding the Chimps in the Armour.

Image

Nice nails, nice hair, shame about the ears.

A chimpanzee dressed as a removals man takes a tea break with colleagues, only to have the piano they are moving crash downstairs.

The year is 2002, the last year Brooke Bond tea were able to use chimps as actors.

It is estimated that there are over 300 showbiz chimps in the USA. A study recently suggested that using chimps for advertising reduced people’s concern for them as an endangered species.

Perhaps the most famous showbiz chimp is Bubbles, who once belonged to Michael Jackson. Not many people know that Bubbles had a former career in research, from which he was ‘rescued’. Bubbles now lives in Florida. He has still not been told about Michael’s sad demise, so I hope he is not reading this.

It is reported that Bubbles has taken well to Florida, putting on a bit of weight and spending the day listening to music and watching television.

Peoples’ attitudes to anthropomorphism – projecting human attributes onto animals and vice versa – are pretty chaotic.

We no longer have TV shows such as Animal Magic, where a voice – over contrives to turn animal footage into mini – drama.

However, cut to 2012, where Ashleigh and Pudsy, a teenager and dancing dog, perform a slickly choreographed routine to the Flintstones theme, to win ‘Britain’s got talent’.

Simon Cowell remarked: ‘You know me, I love a dancing dog, and Pudsy is one of the best dancing dogs I’ve ever seen. My only criticism is I’d have put Pudsy in a prehistoric outfit as well’. (As well as himself perhaps?)

Nowhere have I read any suggestion that training Pudsy was unkind in any way. Contrast this with the kind of coverage with which circuses have had to contend.

Apparently, in the USA, there have been more than 35 dangerous incidents since 2000, where elephants have bolted from circuses, run amok through streets, crashed into buildings, attacked members of the public, and killed and injured handlers.

Time, surely, to send in Sting and maybe even Bono too, to set them free.

Psychiatrists are quite interested in animal behaviour. ‘Ethology’ features significantly in the membership exam multiple choice questions, being the ones that you throw dice to complete randomly, in the last minute.

Always looking out for similarities between animals and their owners, we expect, for instance, a Bubbles solo album in due course. More usefully, we know to beware entering the houses of people who have a) mental health issues and b) lots of pets.

Although, in such circumstances, most pets know that they should first bite the social worker, then the GP, before biting the psychiatrist. Its just a kind of ethological pecking order.

So, what counts as a day out for most people is a field trip for escaped psychiatrists.

Last week l visited a zoo, Newcastle, and my workplace, and its time to compare and contrast. First the zoo.

Nowhere is anthropomorphism more politically incorrect than the zoo.

One can only admire the dedication of the staff toward the welfare of the animals. The lions had loads of space, the lemurs got The Guardian delivered every morning and the reptiles were pampered, perfumed and stroked by two nice young ladies. Not for a moment did I wonder whether they had painted stripes on the snakes with nail varnish.

So, why was it I got this yearning for an old style zoo, where it was OK to throw currant buns at the elephants and dress the chimps up in tutus and cravats?

That kind of thing just isn’t allowed nowadays.

Surprisingly, London zoo haven’t dressed them like this since 1926. Though as late as 1962 Hints zoo dressed them up as decorators and gardeners and gave them bicycles to run round on.

I am sure if I tried to organise a chimpanzee’s tea party I would be struck off the medical register and censured by the district ethical committee.

It’s just that I get the feeling the animals are missing out on something too.

Chimps seemed to like using tools and being silly with paint. Dolphins seem to like acrobatic leaps out of the sea and splashing people in boats. Parrots seem to like riding a unicycle and squawking ‘Hello Keith’.

Maybe the problem is in the phrase ‘seem to like’. Critics might say the animals are trained to act this way by behavioural methods, such as rewarding a desired behaviour with a Malteser or a small fish. Not to say punishing an unwanted behaviour with devastating sarcasm.

Could it be that Pudsy’s seemingly ecstatic enthusiasm is simply a series of learned behaviours, conditioned and chained together during lengthy and gruelling training sessions, each new move heavily reinforced by food pellets? How closely does Pudsy’s behaviour resemble the naturalistic behaviour of dogs in their ‘normal’ habitat?

Possibly animals no more like to ‘go showbiz’ than your washing machine likes to spin at 1400rpm all day.

Pudsy is not an elephant, so is unlikely to pull off a break-out one day, or be rescued by Sting.

Its been said that dogs grow to resemble their owners, but chimps are the animals humans most resemble in terms of appearance and genetic code.

Chimps, like jazz, went their own way 4 million years ago, the split apparently caused by ‘creative differences’.

Chimps were being discussed at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Addiction Specialists conference in Newcastle last week. Though Escaped Psychiatrist is not an addiction specialist, he managed to infiltrate by not shaving for a few days beforehand.

Steve Peters was the big name speaker. His work in elite sport has generated a lot of interest, and his book, The Chimp Paradox, has become a bestseller.

Steve is a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist, yet has eclipsed sports psychologists with his recent high profile successes in cycling, snooker, several other sports and now football.

That’s gratifying for a psychiatrist – we secretly think we would be brilliant at any other career we tried, from hosting a chat show (like Anthony Clare) to chancellor of the exchequer. (Seriously, how hard can it be?)

In person, Steve is charismatic yet self effacing. He has been working on the Chimp model for many years and gradually refined it. Clearly he has incorporated it into his own thinking, resulting in well deserved fame and acknowledgement.

I think Steve has come up with the right model at just the right time, like the iPhone in 2007. The CBT bubble is bursting to some extent and people are hungry for a model with more practical bite.

The name Steve Peters is exactly right for a sports coaching guru. If you were to write a novel about a successful footballer or boxer you would probably call him Steve Peters.

Secondly, he looks fit and healthy, as though he belongs in the world of sport, which is unusual for a psychiatrist.

Most importantly, his ‘chimp’ model of the mind provides a useful metaphor to help understand aspects of human behaviour.

There is a certain amount of overlap with other models, such as Eric Berne’s Parent / Adult / Child system , the ‘seven kinds of smart’ from Emotional Intelligence and even Freud’s concept of the Id. In response to a question, Peters explained that the Chimp went way beyond what Freud would have expected of the Id, in terms of perceptiveness, calculation and dominance.

He also contrasted his model with the Type 1 / Type 2 scheme established by cognitive psychologists, in particular his construction of the part of the mind he calls ‘the computer’, which is paramount in sports performance .

Since Escaped Psychiatrist is mainly concerned with Depression, I am thinking about what this model could bring to the battle.

My first thoughts are that Depression is often associated with poor decision-making.

Whether this is cause, effect or co-incidence varies, but there is certainly a large group of depressed people who have suffered from internal sabotage.

Much of this self destructive behaviour is associated with poor impulse control- behaviours such as overeating, substance misuse, poor anger control and a failure to delay gratification.

A lot of the young people we work with seem to have made a series of terrible decisions, leading to the conclusion that sometimes, ‘misery is the wages of sin’. OK, for sin read ‘dysfunctional behaviour’.

This morning the Today program reported that deliberate self – poisoning in young people had increased by 40% over the last decade.  It looks as though the new generation are struggling with their inner chimps more than ever.

Though I struggled with a significant proportion of Peters’ book, particularly the notion of the psychological universe, made up of planets and moons, there are lots of useful behavioural strategies dotted around the chapters. Peters thinks that children ‘get’ the chimp model quite easily, which means it might suit schools and children’s services.

I guess my concern here is that there is a group of chimps somewhere discussing this, probably  wearing tutus and cravats, drinking tea out of china cups, concluding that what is wrong with chimps nowadays is that they just can’t keep their human side under control.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “14. Finding the Chimps in the Armour.

  1. Bono should rebrand himself as Bonobo.

    There was also the chimp in New York that was trained to throw darts at cards with the names of companies on them, as a method for selecting stocks for investment. It was half joke and half experiment. The darting chimp famously outperformed a number of top portfolio managers though. I don’t know what that says about cause and effect when it comes to the NY stock market. Possibly that either chimps are magical or that investment managers are worse at making money with shares than random efforts. I suspect it shows that chimps know something about darts that we don’t.

  2. I can see this method going disastrously wrong without some health and safety advice.The portfolio managers might start throwing darts at other portfolio managers for one thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s