The Thoughtful Animal

Here are my Research Blogging Editor’s Selections for this week:

  • Let’s start out with something particularly morbid (though potentially the best lede ever): “What effect do thoughts of death have on a typical person’s desire for sex?” This fascinating post by Christian Jarrett of BPS Research Digest asks, when is death an aphrodisiac?
  • If death is an aphrodisiac, then tons of sex should be occurring in Pittsburgh right now, since When Your Super Bowl Team Goes Down, Your Death Risk Goes Up. David Berreby of Mind Matters explains.
  • I’m not sure why death is such a prominent theme this week, but this incredibly poignant post by Eric M. Johnson of The Primate Diaries (In Exile) is a must-read. He writes about a recent study in which researchers “documented a case where a chimpanzee mother faced what for most of us would be an unthinkable horror: the death of her child,” and describes a potential non-human primate model for mourning.


  1. #1 EMJ
    February 8, 2011

    Thank you for selecting my post Jason!

  2. #2 Jason Wallin
    February 9, 2011

    Jason, I love your blog. I want to take issue with how you end this post, though–with that word “model.” To me a model is a (relatively) simple representation of a natural process that allows us to better understand that process. Mathematical models allow us to reduce real, complex phenomena to common, understandable terms. A mouse model of cancer allows us to understand a real, complex disease process under simplified (genetic, experiential) conditions.

    There is no model here–unless you want to make the claim, as many seem to, that chimpanzee behavior is really nothing but, or at least can usefully be considered as, simplified human behavior. It’s not, of course. It’s chimpanzee behavior.

    Eric Johnson, in his great piece, has not described a potential non-human primate model of mourning. What Eric has described for us is an instance of actual chimpanzees actually mourning an actual, dead infant. This is real, complex behavior, freely employed by real, complex free-living individuals.

    This is not a model of morning, it’s an instance of mourning. Let us take at least a moment to appreciate it for what it is and not be too quick to pretend that chimpanzees are here as hairy test tubes with no interests but to better help us understand ourselves.

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