Much of the behavioral study of animals today, particularly of those used in agriculture, is driven, not by a desire to better understand the animal mind, but by a desire to understand how their behavior impacts productivity and how we can manipulate their behavior to breed more productive animals. That is most certainly the case with the research project conducted by Kees van Reenen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, as reported in Science Daily.
While human behavior studies are generally conducted with the intention of improving human health and well being, van Reenan’s study of dairy cow temperament sets out to understand the specific “temperament” traits of individual dairy cows who react dramatically different to the same stimuli and situations. The goal of the study is to determine how we can use selective breeding technology to produce cows that will have the “right” personality traits for optimal dairy production on large scale farms. In other words, cows that will be as submissive and passive as possible while producing the most milk.
While we generally regard the cloning of humans and animals and even the genetic engineering of plants as morally objectionable or at least controversial, we aren’t fully understanding the implications of the research and practice of selective breeding, which shares the same goal of manipulating mother nature to exploit greater profit from her resources.
The underlying ideology at work here is that other species have value only to the extent that they serve the human species. We have no interest in really understanding their true intelligence beyond how that intelligence could better extract what we want from that species.