Author Archives: Megan Louise Airey

Puppies in Paris*

*Title credit goes to Rachel Cliburn for her initial “Pooches of Paris” idea

Dear fellow readers,

I cannot believe this is my last week in Paris. The time has flown by. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned, the amazing people that I’ve met, and what I’ve been able to explore in Paris as well. As I spent some time the past few days reflecting on my time abroad these past five weeks, I couldn’t help but think about how my experience and life at home has shaped my experience here, especially since I got to spend a week of my trip with my mom.

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My mom and I at Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, located at the 18th arrondissement in Paris

But while I wandered the streets of Paris, whether it be near the Accent center where we have class, on the Metro, or near Cit√© Universitaire where we live, I couldn’t help myself noticing all the different animals that freely roam about Paris, especially dogs. Most people who know me and know me well know how attached I am to different animals; however, none compare to how much I love dogs. I’ve seen them here and there around Paris: from a pleasantly plump pug to a shaggy, content mutt, I’ve taken note and even snapped a few pictures!

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A black pug seen across the street from Accent (although not a great picture)

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Spotted: An adorable mutt seen on the Metro (pun intended). My mom called this dog my brother’s “doggleganger”, since they both have two different colored eyes. ūüôā

I had the pleasure of growing up with two Newfoundland dogs. If you aren’t familiar with the breed, Newfoundlands are typically very big, black dogs that originate from the coast of Canada. My first dog, Rufus, was a darling: quite a sweetheart and lived with me until I was about 8 years old. After he died of a brain tumor, my family got another dog named Angus. Same breed, but quite a different animal entirely. Angus was rambunctious and always quite a joker: he used to eat our socks (which we’d later find mixed in with his poop in the backyard a day or so later)!

But we all loved Angus. Up until he passed away in 2013, he was one of the most important parts of my life.

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Angus and me reunited during fall break of my first year of college (2012)

After seeing various puppies around Paris, I thought back to Angus and just how important he was to me. These thoughts made me wonder: do our canine counterparts feel similarly attached to us as we do to them?

After some researching, I stumbled upon a study that looked into attachment behavior in dogs. This study applied Ainsworth (1969)’s original Strange Situation Procedure¬†to attachment behavior in dogs! For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure, this paradigm consists of separations and reunions between parent and child and is used to assess degrees of attachment. The paradigm can be broken up into three stages:

1. Child enters a room with their parent/guardian (usually the child’s mother) filled with toys and a stranger whom the child has never met before. The child is allowed to explore/play with the toys in the presence of both the stranger and¬†his or her parent.

2. The mother leaves the room, leaving the child alone with the stranger (and the toys).

3. Third, the mother re-enters the room and re-joins the child with the stranger.

The child’s behavior is observed during each of these stages to assess the level of attachment the child has towards his or her parent. If the child has a “secure” attachment to their parent, they will likely be upset when the mother leaves, but quickly soothed upon her return. An “insecure avoidant” child will not be phased by the mother’s initial presence, absence, or return, and will likely ignore the parent throughout all stages. An “insecure anxious” child will be so distraught by the parent leaving the room that they are often inconsolable, even upon the parent’s return. Lastly, a “disorganized” child exhibits strange behavior that does not fit into any of the above categories.

To better understand this procedure, here’s a video example:

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that they did a similar study with dogs! In Top√°l et al. (1998), they modeled this strange situation procedure with a series of separations and reunions in 51 dog-owner pairs. And do you know what they found? Adult dogs show patterns of attachment toward their owners! The observed dog behaviors are also similar to the mother-infant interactions recorded during Ainsworth’s original study. Additionally, another study by Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2011) found that individual differences in human attachment to pets results in pet-related cognitions, emotions, and behavior. This study also illustrated¬†these differences lead to different emotional reactions to the death of the pet. No wonder my attachment to Angus resulted in so much grief when he passed!

After reading Top√°l et al.‘s research findings, I’d be curious to know at what point during the dog’s life this attachment emerges. In humans, attachment develops fairly early. This study was only done in adult dogs, and the researchers also admitted to having considerable variability in dog behavior. Additionally, I wonder if abused dogs would show “insecure avoidant” behavior, as abused children often do.

For the moment though, it does appear as if my attachment to Angus probably wasn’t only one-sided. I wonder if he misses me as much as I miss him!

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Me and Angus in 2005

Here’s hoping that all the Parisian puppies out there have good and kind owners, and that they can develop an emotional attachment as special as mine and Angus’s was.

Au revoir pour le moment lecteurs!

Meg

References:

Ainsworth, M. D. S.,¬†Wittig, B. A. (1969). Attachment and exploratory behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Determinants of Infant Behavior, 4, 113‚Äď136.

Top√°l J, Mikl√≥si √Ā, Cs√°nyi V, D√≥ka A (1998). Attachment Behavior in Dogs (Canis familiaris): A New Application of Ainsworth’s (1996) Strange Situation Test.¬†Journal of Comparative Psychology. 112: 219-229.

Zilcha-Mano S, Mikulincer M, Shaver PR (2011). An attachment perspective on human-pet relationships: Conceptualization and assessment of pet attachment orientations. Journal of Research in Personality. 45 (4): 345-357.

An All-Natural High: Running through Paris

Bonjour tout le monde!

As my second week in Paris comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on my time in Paris thus far. Have I accomplished what I’ve wanted to accomplish? Have I met my goals?

One major goal that I set out to fulfill during my time in Paris was to keep running. But before I delve into that, let me give you a little background on my relationship with running.

I never used to enjoy running.¬†In fact, I strongly disliked running. My parents have always been big runners and have run marathons, done triathlons, Tough Mudder-type events, and many others. I could never understand why they would put themselves through the grueling process of burning up your lungs and muscles until you just couldn’t do it anymore. Why subject your body to that much pain? All throughout middle school and high school, the only running I did was on the soccer field or on the volleyball court. But that all changed this past semester.

I can’t tell you for sure what it was that changed my mind about running. To be honest, I think it might’ve been that I wanted to get in shape and I knew running would get me there. So I started running. Every other day, every few days… whenever I found time in my busy Emory schedule to run, I ran. And it got easier each time. I didn’t feel as fatigued when I ran, and the thought of running didn’t incur feelings of immense hatred anymore. I actually started to enjoy it… even look forward to it! You’re now reading the blog post of a girl who is signed up to run a half marathon in the fall, and I couldn’t be more excited about training for it.

While I haven’t had much time to run in Paris between classes, excursions, and exploring, I’ve tried to fit it into my schedule as much as I can, even if it’s ¬†just a short, 2 mile run. The first time I went for a run in Paris, I immediately felt better and had an immediate rush of familiar excitement. As I set off to run in one of my favorite places in Paris, the Touileries garden, pounding along to the beat of “‘Till I Collapse” by Eminem, I finally identified the feeling. It was an all-natural, all-encompassing high.

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Beginning my run in the Touileries (photographed by Joy Lee)

As I entered the park and continued along the path, feeling great, I wondered what caused this high, and how it affected my running performance.

So I came back to my room later that day and did a little bit of research. I found a study from 2008 that described the phenomenon I was experiencing, called “the runner’s high”. This study by¬†Boecker et al. (2008)¬†looked at ten athletes at two time intervals: one after 2 hours of endurance running and one during a rest period. The researchers looked at whether particular opioid receptors (molecules of tissue that bind substances called endorphins that give us a boost when we run) get depleted when we run long distances, and they indeed found that certain areas of the brain do in fact have reduced opioid receptor availability in subjects during endurance running as compared to when subjects were resting!

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Reduction in opioid receptor availability in certain areas of the brain after long distance running compared to when resting

So basically, when we run long distances, we do in fact feel an all-natural “high”, in addition to having pain-relieving symptoms — even though it often feels like we’re about to die when we’ve run for too long (Boecker et al., 2008).

This analgesic effect got me thinking though: what about when we’re extremely fatigued? We don’t seem to feel this pain-killing effect anymore: in fact, the pain is almost unbearable¬†when we feel like we’ve reached our limit.¬†The concept of limits reminded me of a Radiolab podcast that I had listened to while taking Human Physiology with Dr. Cafferty, fall semester 2014. In the beginning of the¬†podcast, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (the hosts of Radiolab) introduce Julie Moss, who discusses her first Ironman experience. If you watch her running toward the finish line on YouTube, you can see how the fatigue after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and finally a marathon (26.2 miles) truly catches up to her.

Krulwich and Abumrad then go on to introduce what is known as the central governor theory, along with the help of physiologist Dr. David Jones. This theory describes how fatigue may in fact not be a result of muscles running out of energy: in fact, it may be more mental than we think. When we’re running low on energy, this central governor signals triggers of pain to try to get us to rest. Scientists are finding that this governor circuit is conservative, keeping a reservoir of energy readily available in case of an emergency. While some scientists argue that fatigue is one of the greatest imperfections of the body, Noakes (2012) references an Italian physiologist A. Mosso who says that fatigue may in fact be one of of our most marvelous perfections. As Krulwich jokes in the Radiolab podcast, perhaps fatigue is our body’s “almost out of gas” message, telling us we’re running out of energy when we still have a 1/4 of a tank left.

As I continue to train and eventually complete the half marathon in the fall, I know I’ll be thinking about my central governor and hoping for that endorphin boost; especially as I (hopefully) run toward that finish line, trying to avoid pulling a Julie Moss, running to the melody of Chariots of Fire.

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Selfie of me while running in Montsouris park!

Until next time,

Meg

References:

Abumrad J, Krulwich R. Limits of the Body. RadioLab. http://www.radiolab.org/story/91710-limits-of-the-body/

Boecker H, Sprenger T, Spilker, M, Henriksen G, Koppenhoefer M, Wagner, KJ, Valet M, Berthele A, Tolle T (2008). The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain. Cerebral Cortex 18: 2523-2531.

Noakes T (2012). Fatigue is a Brain-Derived Emotion that Regulates the Exercise Behavior to Ensure the Protection of Whole Body Homeostasis. Front Physiol. 3:82.