Scrolling through my Facebook feed one day, three videos caught my eye. In the first, a rescued kitten wasn’t thriving, so the people who’d fostered her placed her with a husky. The two bonded, to the extent that the husky allowed the tiny kitten to suckle.
I can’t show you that exact video, because it was an unauthorised compilation and is no longer on YouTube. But in the video below, you can see that Rosie’s unusual mother figure had an interesting effect. She shows some very un-kitten-like behaviour, clearly enjoying a kayaking trip. In other videos she can be seen swimming fearlessly, panting like a dog and going on a three-mile hike with the huskies and their owners.
Rosie is now a fully grown cat and has taken care of some more foster kittens.
If that video didn’t amaze you, this next video certainly will! It has more kittens – this time a mix of cat and rabbit kittens. What I find most fascinating is that the cat kittens follow the behaviour of the rabbit ones. Since cats are by nature predators and rabbits prey, you might expect would be the opposite. Possibly it is because there are more rabbits than cats that the rabbit behaviour is dominant.
Those two videos were achingly cute of course, but then, there’s this one below. It records a social experiment that takes place in an eye doctor’s waiting room. Most of the people in the waiting room are actors, and they all stand up every time there’s a beep. The experiment is to see how many people will follow suit, even if they don’t have a clue why they are doing what they do. Would you stand up just because someone else does? How many of the unwitting public do you think would? Fifty per cent? Fewer, or more?
Conformist behaviour in humans
While looking for that video on YouTube, I came across several others on similar themes. In one, actors face towards the back in a elevator whereas in real life, people face towards the doors. Members of the public who came in mostly stood facing forwards to begin with, but gradually turned towards the back. Few resisted completely.
So are we all just cute kittens following the lead of whoever we happen to be with? Or are we sheep, mindlessly following anyone, no matter how terrible their lead?
Plenty of people suspect the latter just now, with all the political turmoil surrounding us, both in Europe and the USA. Social conformity seems to be a bad thing, and something we all succumb to.
The elevator experiment has been done many times over the years, with the first conducted by Solomon Asch in 1962. Some students at Bethany Lutherian College also tried it, and they found that younger people were more likely to conform, and men were more likely to than women. I’m not sure why men would conform more often than women, but it’s not surprising that the young conform more often than older people. I didn’t show you videos of an elderly cat getting cosy with an equally elderly dog or of adult cats bunny-hopping. We are far are more easily conditioned when we are young.
But at Bethany College, even of the young, only 40% conformed. And Solomon Asch also found that even if people do easily slip into conformity, it also doesn’t take much for them to slip back out of it.
Advantages of social conformity
So, let’s not despair of the human race. Besides, there are some advantages to conformity – it’s by conforming to the group that we are able to live together peacefully in groups. We conform to laws and rules, but also to informal manners. Through those we can understand each other.
Going back to those cute kitties, I want to use them to illustrate another point. Those kittens who take on the attributes of another species they are reared with don’t plan to do it. They don’t even realise they are doing it – it’s not their fault! So why is it that when a human raised in terrible circumstances goes on to do terrible things, we can still debate whether or not if this is due to the circumstances, or if the person is just “born bad”?
Think about those kittens again. If they had been raised only by cats, they would only have cat behaviour. As it is, they still have cat behaviour as well as rabbit or dog behaviour. They are still cats, just as a child raised in terrible circumstances still retains some elements of his or her personality that will have an effect on how he or she grows up. So one young boy might see his father beat his mother and grow up determined to be gentle and kind, while his brother as an adult might beat his wife. But if that same those boys had been raised with gentle loving parents, both would almost certainly be gentle and loving too.
The effect of kind attention
In the United States, something as small as a nurse visiting first-time teen mothers once a month during pregnancy and the first two years of their children’s lives can have lasting impact on how these children turn out. One study conducted in New York found that compared to a control group, nurse-visited children were:
43% less likely to have been arrested, and 58% less likely to have been convicted, as of age 19 (21% of nurse-visited children had been arrested versus 37% of control-group children, and 12% versus 28% had been convicted, according to self-reports).
Their mothers were also considerably less likely to have been arrested themselves, had fewer subsequent children, were less likely to abuse their children and spent less time on welfare benefits. All that, just from a nurse visiting once a month until their child was two.
So, if we want to see a kinder world, one in which children grow up with better opportunities and less likely to be arrested, it behoves us to show that kindness to their parents. And while we’re at it, let’s also show kindness to ourselves, because nurturing ourselves with loving kindness gives adults more purpose in life and less likelihood of depression. That seems just as cute as some kittens, doesn’t it?
Here’s a another dose of kitten Rosie for you, with Lilo comforting her at the vet. If they can transcend species boundaries like this, surely we can transcend boundaries within humanity?