Talk about listening to your own voice. Most animals are instinctual creatures. They can’t help but do exactly what their inner voice tells them to do. They don’t question, or second guess, or worry about what some neighbor animal might think. They just act in accordance to what’s best for them.
Driving into town the other day, I was struck again by the authenticity of one particular kind of animal. This time of year, when the temperatures are warming and the snow thawing, the geese return from their southern winter havens to once again forage and start families in the great state of Idaho.
We see them flying overhead, walking around the river, and flapping their giant wings out in the fields. There’s one particular road, however, that they’re very fond of. It runs alongside the canal just west of the river, and offers plenty of trees and brush for exploration and cover.
At the start of spring this year, I was driving along, not really paying attention, when I came upon this favored spot. I’d seen a few of the birds here and there, but no close encounters—until this day. I came around the bend and there, standing in the middle of the road, was a goose and her gander.
The goose moved to the side, but the gander, faced with this 4,000-pound machine barreling toward him at 25 miles per hour, proceeded to pull up his neck, strut his stuff, and scold me for daring to even think about disturbing him! That was his road as much as mine, he seemed to be saying, and I’d better give him the proper respect.
I slowed down and moved into the other lane. At least this time, the goose won his case.
In all the years I’ve lived here, geese have always frequented that particular stretch of road, and I’ve never once seen one killed by a car.
Encountering a creature like this, I marvel at its strong sense of self. Scientists have discovered, however, that not all geese are as confident as the one I saw. Some are bold, and some are shy. To find out how each type adapted in geese society, researchers let one group of geese watch another two groups. One of the observed groups was given food, while the other was not. After watching, each goose was allowed to decide which group it would join.
The shy geese joined the group that was eating, but the bold geese? They went off on their own! “Heck with them,” they seemed to say. “We can find something better ourselves!”
I see clear parallels to human behavior here. It takes a definite boldness and self confidence to go out on your own, follow your own voice, and blaze a new trail. We humans are very social creatures, so I think it’s even harder for us than for other species to break away from the crowd. Let me tell you more about this study, however, as it gets even better.
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers wanted to see if the shy geese would still follow the same pattern if it turned out that what the group was doing was wrong. Again the geese watched two groups, one with food and one without, but this time when it was time to let the shy geese go, the food was placed with the group that had not been eating before.
At first, the shy geese went straight to the group they had seen eating (but which now had no food), but after a few times of coming up empty, they decided to ignore the social information they were getting and go search for food themselves. In other words, they gradually learned to follow their own instincts when they discovered the crowd wasn’t always right.
Some of us are bold from the beginning, and have no trouble striding forth full of confidence and purpose. Others, however, need a few trials before realizing that following the crowd may not be the best choice.
The next time you find yourself bowing to the majority—when you’d really like to step out with an entirely different opinion or approach—I invite you to remember that cocky goose. My guess? He’ll have cars, trucks, and SUVs making way for him to stand proudly on his road for years to come.
Photo courtesy scottyboylamont via Flickr.com.
Source: Wageningen University and Research Centre (2010, May 21). Personality of geese determines their foraging behaviour. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/05/100520093206.htm