Skip to main content

Animals in Translation

Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Catherine Johnson, Temple Grandin


List Price: 15.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (4/25/2013)


I don't know if people will ever be able to talk to animals the way Doctor Doolittle could, or whether animals will be able to talk back. Maybe science will have something to say about that. But I do know people can learn to "talk" to animals, and to hear what animals have to say, better than they do now. --From Animals in Translation

Why would a cow lick a tractor? Why are collies getting dumber? Why do dolphins sometimes kill for fun? How can a parrot learn to spell? How did wolves teach man to evolve? Temple Grandin draws upon a long, distinguished career as an animal scientist and her own experiences with autism to deliver an extraordinary message about how animals act, think, and feel. She has a perspective like that of no other expert in the field, which allows her to offer unparalleled observations and groundbreaking ideas.

People with autism can often think the way animals think, putting them in the perfect position to translate "animal talk." Grandin is a faithful guide into their world, exploring animal pain, fear, aggression, love, friendship, communication, learning, and, yes, even animal genius. The sweep of Animals in Translation is immense and will forever change the way we think about animals.

*includes a Behavior and Training Troubleshooting Guide
Among its provocative ideas, the book:
argues that language is not a requirement for consciousness--and that animals do have consciousness applies the autism theory of "hyper-specificity" to animals, showing that animals and autistic people are so sensitive to detail that they "can't see the forest for the trees"--a talent as well as a "deficit" explores the "interpreter" in the normal human brain that filters out detail, leaving people blind to much of the reality that surrounds them--a reality animals and autistic people see, sometimes all too clearlyexplains how animals have "superhuman" skills: animals have animal geniuscompares animals to autistic savants, declaring that animals may in fact be autistic savants, with special forms of genius that normal people do not possess and sometimes cannot even see examines how humans and animals use their emotions to think, to decide, and even to predict the future reveals the remarkable abilities of handicapped people and animals maintains that the single worst thing you can do to an animal is to make it feel afraid

Praise For Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior


"Neurology has Oliver Sachs, nature has Annie Dillard, and the lucky animal world has Grandin, a master intermediary between humans and our fellow beasts . . . Animals is one of those rare books that elicits a 'wow' on almost every page. A."--Entertainment Weekly

"Inspiring . . . Crammed with facts and anecdotes about Temple Grandin's favorite subject: the senses, brains, emotions, and amazing talents of animals."--The New York Times Book Review

"Neurology has Oliver Sachs, nature has Annie Dillard, and the lucky animal world has Grandin, a master intermediary between humans and our fellow beasts . . . At once hilarious, fascinating, and just plain weird, Animals is one of those rare books that elicits a 'wow' on almost every page. A."

— Entertainment Weekly

"Inspiring . . . Crammed with facts and anecdotes about Temple Grandin's favorite subject: the senses, brains, emotions, and amazing talents of animals."

— The New York Times Book Review

"Grandin's focus in Animals in Translation is not on all the 'normal' things autistics and animals can't do but on the unexpected, extraordinary, invaluable things they can."

— O, the Oprah Magazine

Mariner Books, 9780156031448, 384pp.

Publication Date: January 2, 2006

About the Author

CATHERINE JOHNSON, Ph.D., is a writer specializing in neuropsychiatry and the brain. She cowrote Animals in Translation and served as a trustee of the National Alliance for Autism Research for seven years. She lives with her husband and three sons—two of whom have autism—in New York.

TEMPLE GRANDIN is one of the world’s most accomplished and well-known adults with autism. She is a professor at Colorado State University and the author of several best-selling books, which have sold more than a million copies. The HBO movie based on her life, starring Claire Danes, received seven Emmy Awards.

Conversation Starters from

  1. What is a squeeze chute? What does it do? What is it for? Why did Grandin realize at an early age that she “needed a squeeze chute of [her] own”? Describe the “squeeze machine” that Grandin designed for herself. How does this device help her?  
  2. Summarize Grandin’s background: her youth, her schooling, her accomplishments, her career. How did Grandin come to find “a connection between human intelligence and animal intelligence the animal sciences have missed”? And what, in essence, is that connection? Also, what does Grandin mean by calling autism “a kind of way station on the road from animals to humans”?  
  3. Why does the author claim that “animals are like autistic savants . . . [and] might actually be autistic savants”? What’s her reasoning?  
  4. Describe Grandin’s take on B. F. Skinner and behaviorism. Why does she take a critical view of behaviorism overall while also allowing that this movement “had a lot to offer, and still does?”  
  5. Explain the difference between behaviorists and ethologists. What does it means to “anthropomorphize” something?  Why were both camps “in total agreement that practically the worst thing anyone could possibly do was to anthropomorphize an animal”? Does Grandin agree with his? Explain her qualifications or reservations regarding the anthropomorphic study of animals.  
  6. Toward the end of this chapter, Grandin relates the story of a famous experiment known as “Gorillas in Our Midst.” How did this experiment work? What did it prove? What does this experiment tell us about how normal people experience the world? And why does Grandin keep referring to this experiment throughout Animals in Translation?  
  7. Describe the differences between predators, prey animals, and scavengers. Give examples of each, and explain how these three categories relate to—and sometimes overlap—one another.  
  8. Why does Grandin assert that she has to “fight against abstractification constantly when [she’s] working with the government and the meatpacking industry”? What does she mean by “abstractified” thinking, and why does she claim that “people become more radical when they’re thinking abstractly”? Do you agree with Grandin on this last point? Why or why not?  
  9. Explain how autistic people and animals are alike in the way they see things. Also explain how and why the author’s thinking in this regard was encouraged by Nancy Minshew, a research neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh.  
  10. Review the list of eighteen “Tiny Details That Scare Farm Animals” (which Grandin presents in this chapter). Why is it especially relevant that  “fourteen out of the eighteen distracters are visual”? Why do “contrast” and “things that are moving” appear so often on this list?  
  11. “Apparently animals use an additive system rather than an averaging system when they’re figuring out what something is and whether they should be afraid of it,” Grandin writes. Define these two systems, and elaborate on the difference between them.   
  12. In the “Sound” section of this chapter, Grandin says: “I think the orienting response is the beginning of consciousness.” Why does she think this?  
  13. Later Grandin notes, “Comparing animal brains to human brains tells us two things.” Identify and expand on these two key points. Also, explain the difference between the following three terms, and how they relate to one another: reptilian brain, paleomammalian brain, and neomammalian brain.  
  14. Grandin gives two reasons for thinking that “everyone has the potential for extreme perception.” What are these reasons? Also, what does she mean by asserting that “normal people see and hear schemas, not raw sensory data”? How do such schemas and data pertain to the idea of filtering stuff out—and how do animals and autistic people differ from normal people on this score?   
  15. Describe the phenomenon of “rapist roosters”—what are they, why did they come about, where and when do they appear, and how do they relate to the practice of single-trait breeding? 
  16. Why are albino animals “not normal”? What reasons or evidence does the author provide for their abnormality, and why do albino animals “suffer” (both domestically and in the wild)? Why are albino animals problematic for research?  
  17. “People and domestic animals have been together for a long time,” Grandin notes in this chapter, “and domestic animals have been evolving in response to humans for years.” Provide several examples of this, from this chapter as well as the rest of the book. Also, what does Grandin mean by “incidental selection pressure”—and how does this concept relate to both the coexistence and genetics of humans and animals?  
  18. What does the author mean by saying that “humans have neotenized dogs”? What have humans done to dogs in neotenizing them, and how—and why—did we do so in the first place? In answering these questions, summarize Grandin’s accounts of dogs and wolves in this regard. 
  19. What connection does the author make between her own lack of an unconscious mind and animals’ lack of Freudian defense mechanisms? How does this connection relate to “the fact that pictures are [Grandin’s] ‘native language’”?  
  20. What are mixed emotions? What are complex emotions? And what are the four core emotions and the four primary social emotions? Which of these emotions do humans have, which do animals have, and which do humans and animals share?  
  21. Name the trait(s) Grandin is referring to when she describes the “dinnertime wag-and-smile” feeling that all dogs exhibit (note that she cites Dr. Jaak Panksepp in naming this emotion). What is the brain’s SEEKING circuit—what does it trigger in humans as well as animals? Also explain the novelty paradox that stems from the SEEKING system.
  22. Explain “animal superstition” (which is a B. F. Skinner term). Do humans also display this sort of behavior? And if so, do animals and humans develop superstitions in the same manner? Explain.  
  23. Why is Grandin so critical of how horse breeders house their stallions? (When answering this question, see also chapter 4.)  
  24. What is the difference between face recognition and face memory, and how does each pertain to the object recognition area of the brain (that is, in autistic as well as normal people)? What is social memory?