During this week’s lecture, the guest speakers provided interesting videos and commentary on body language and physical gestures associated with primates and humans. However, even though lecture primarily delved into concepts and examples of the close link between gestures and forms of communication with respect to humans and animals, I was wondering about some of the few ways in which behavior and communication is particularly different between humans and animals in terms of physical motion.
For one, Dr. Deborah Forster demonstrated a particular exercise dealing with mind and body awareness which reminded me of a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation which encompasses focusing attention on the experience, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations simply by observing them as they arise and pass away. I was wondering if this type of meditation was exclusive to humans only since those in the animal kingdom seem to already be aware of body as a result of needing to survive and responsiveness to environment. Mindfulness meditation for humans has many beneficial effects including enhanced mind-body functioning, self-management, relaxations, acceptance, acting with awareness, evaluation of one’s sensations, and nonreactivity to inner experience (allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, without attention being caught within them).
This idea of mindfulness meditation being an exclusive practice to humans to enhance a type of bodily perception then made me begin thinking of other ways in which gestures and movement are unique for humans. For instance, mindfulness meditation is a form that is practiced by many physical performers, one such group being contortionists, gymnasts, or dancers. These types of performance arts, which require a large range of motions and behaviors, are typically presented as forms of communication – in terms of bringing about a certain message, telling a story, or even invoking emotions from an audience. Would these performed movements and purposefully directed uses of body language have the same effect on animals as they would on a human audience? How would an animal interpret the movements of a dancer or contortionist, would it try to mimic the near impossible motions, and what messages or hidden nuances would it be able to gather? These are all three concepts that are typically applied to humans, but much more difficult to apply to animals. Many people would be able to gain some sort of understanding behind a dance or performance at least in terms of recognizing it as a spectacle, and some interested individuals might even decide to learn and mimic these types of behaviors solely for interest or expression. From the videos and commentary of Rachel Mayeri, it is indeed true that humans and apes share a noticeable similarity through the use of body language as a conscious and unconscious means of communication between other members in a social setting, but I think the trait that distinguishes human behavior from animal behavior is the ability to consciously be aware of self-entity in current time, which ties back into Deborah Forster’s particular exercise. Because of this, rather than simply being limited to basic instinct and movement, humans are able to expand upon expression through movement and establish ways of communication through performances and athletic displays in ways that would have little meaning or necessity to their animal counterparts.
~ Amber Tang 🙂