Sunday, 8 January 2017

Do Chickens have ‘Whizzy’ brains and/or ‘Sticky’ thoughts?

In her latest blog, my fellow blogger Lynn Findlay shared her idea of what she described as ‘whizzy’ thinking – you can read her blog here. Lynn describes a way of being that many of us will recognise when thinking about our everyday lives - I really liked her concept of a ‘whizzy brain’. As always, reading her ideas made me stop and reflect – not about ‘whizzy’ thinking but what I want to call ‘sticky’ thinking. For me ‘sticky’ thinking best describes those thoughts that lurk at the edge of our consciousness. Thoughts that we keep coming back too, on which we ponder for a while before moving to whatever else is occupying us. ‘Sticky’ thinking doesn’t always result in a conclusion, but will draw you back into that ponder mode time and time again. 

Here’s an example. I am part of a large family and Christmas is always a time to share with other family members. 2016’s celebrations were a little different. After many family events, the last of which was a family party for 24 on Christmas Eve, W and drove up to Scotland to spend some time together. We wanted to be on our own, without family or friends staying with us. It was our choice to try and create some time away from folk. As it turned out we actually had very little time to spend without being in the company of others.

Of course it was lovely to be invited to friends’ houses or out for drinks, dinner or a party. It just wasn’t what we had planned, and the desired solitude and quietness were hard to come by. There is always next year. However, for many people, solitude and quietness are not desirable things. Recently published research from Age UK reported that 500,000 people over the age of 60 will often spend each day completely alone, with no interaction with other people. They also report that a further 500,000 people often do not see or speak to anyone for 5-6 days a week.

That is 1 million people in the UK who are profoundly alone, many of whom are likely to be enduring the pain and suffering of loneliness, depression and who will also be at a much high risk of requiring hospital care. Age UK have a great programme aimed at combating loneliness, but there is much more that needs to be done. My ‘sticky’ thinking was around reflecting on what I could do to help. One group I admire immensely when it comes in tackling loneliness of the older person is HenPower. Read about their fabulous work here.

As regular readers will know I have a bit of a thing about hens, and regularly claim to have the world’s greatest collection of all things chicken. Readers might not know, that I am just 517 working days away from retirement. I’ve started looking at what the next stage of my life journey might involve. I have wondered if there is something I could do that brings together my experience as a mental health nurse, a researcher, my love of chickens and being a chicken keeper, and a desire to make a difference. It’s within this contemplative space that my ‘sticky’ thinking has occurred – I know there’s something there, but I can’t quite see it.

It was my love of all things chicken that led me to read about the Someone Project, a programme funded and carried out by the Farm Sanctuary in the US. The Someone Project was featured last week in many UK newspapers when their latest research into hen behaviour was published. The research showed that hens are capable of greater logical reasoning than children, have distinct personalities and can even exhibit Machiavellian behaviours. They have a sense of numbers and appear to do simple arithmetic. They can exhibit self-control, and self-assess their position in the ‘pecking order’. Both of these characteristics are psychological indicators of self-awareness – although there will be some readers who find the notion of chicken psychology a little strange. 

Disappointingly, what the research report didn’t describe was whether hens have ‘whizzy’ brains or ‘sticky’ thoughts. But there is a big clue in the telling of Symphony and June’s story. They are 2 hens who are part of the Someone Project. You can read their story here and see what you think .