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The Power of Appetite

And the misunderstanding of appetitive behaviour

The term “appetitive behaviour” is frequently misunderstood and thought to be related only to the procurement of food. However, in the wider sense, the term describes a behaviour that seeks to “release” a particular action. If that action has, for example, not been performed for a while like sneaking up and pouncing at a mouse in the case of a cat, then the threshold to trigger the release of that particular behaviour may be lowered to such an extent whereby even a dry leaf blown about by the wind can elicit chasing and pouncing in the case of the cat.

Likewise, if a stag during the rutting season cannot release its combative urges in competition and fights with another male, the stag may well take out its unreleased aggression on a bush whose size and shape may ever so vaguely resemble those of an opponent. When male toads after their long winter hibernation arrive at the mating pond in search of plump and rotund female toads and cannot find any, they in their desperation will hop toward anything that ever so crudely fits their mental image of the roundish female body and will embrace it, even if it is only the tip of a boot as has happened to me a few times.

This “lowering of thresholds” in times of unsatisfied needs operates in humans as well and was amply demonstrated to us menfolk on a research vessel several decades ago, when I was still a student and the captain got us males together prior to the departure of the vessel. It was the first time that there would be two female students on board and the captain was clearly worried since the trip was meant to be at least three months long. I remember the captain in his wisdom telling us during that ‘males only meeting’ that the “girls with us on this trip”, as we could all see, were not exactly the prettiest, but that their beauty and attractiveness would exponentially increase the longer we’d be at sea. Some laughed, but he was right and appetitive behaviour has most likely also been at the root of the sightings of sirens and mermaids by sailors of previous centuries during the bygone era of the windjammers.

These poor souls (I mean the men making up the crew) were away from home and their loved ones, often not just for months, but years, and the sight of a tropical sea-cow sticking its head with its round face and large dark eyes out of the water, might well have excited a sailor, especially someone a little intoxicated by some high percentage rum. For the sea-cow (also called manatee or dugong and, despite its superficial resemblance to seals not at all related to them, but to elephants), you should know, carries its milk supply not like a real cow at the posterior end of its body (for there are the fused flippers of the now absent hind limbs), but on its chest in “the right place”, so to speak. And that, no doubt, is what mattered to our seafaring menfolk more than anything else. The whiskers and generally unshaven appearance of the sea-cow’s face appears to have been totally ignored by our sailor friends. Thus is the power of “appetitive behaviour” during times of deprivation !

thirst ship sheep sailor evolution

If you’re still thirsty…


© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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