last revised March 30, 2017
Humans strive for attachments and social connections. Those who are socially isolated are less healthy physically and psychologically. When a person is excluded from a group, aggressive behavior increases,1 self-regulation is impaired,2 and prosocial behavior decreases.3 Like humans, horses are social animals. In fact, they are probably more social than humans. They don’t seem to need as much personal space as we do, and their bands and herds stick closer together than ours do. They always choose to eat together and drink together. They were born to be wild, born to run, and born to love each other.
So we should expect to find a vast scientific literature on the social psychology of horses. We don’t. There is no such thing! Only a handful of researchers have shown an interest in horse social behavior, and there is no cohesive field of study in the same way that there is for human social behavior. There is no Journal of Horse Personality and Social Psychology which publishes this research. There is no Society for the Advancement of Horse Social Psychology to help researchers get together. There are no courses in college with titles like “Horse Social Psychology 101”. When anyone talks about social psychology, they are talking about humans.
Most books about mammals would not devote the space that I have to social behavior, because less is known about their social behavior, and because there there seems to be less social behavior to write about. And they wouldn’t spend any time on “respect”, “leadership”, or “dominance”, because this stuff generally doesn’t even occur in mammals or come up in discussions. But there are lots of experts out there that seem to know all about this stuff — and I can’t let some of the silly stuff stand.
And as a Social Psychologist, I’ve long been interested in this stuff, so here we go…
1 See for a review: Leary, M. R., Twenge, J. M., & Quinlivan, E. (2006). Interpersonal rejection as a determinant of anger and aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 111-132.
2 Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Ciarocco, N. J., & Twenge, J. M. (2005). Social exclusion impairs self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 589-604.
3 Twenge, J. M., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Ciarocco, N. J., & Bartels, J. M. (2007). Social exclusion decreases pro-social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 56-66.