Resource Holding Potential
Animal Behavior Desk Reference – A Dictionary of Animal Behavior Ecology and Evolution 2nd ed – Barrows (CRC 2005)
Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition – Miklosi (Oxford 2007)
- An individual organism’s potential for obtaining, or retaining, a resource based on its fighting ability [coined by Parker 1974 in Maynard Smith 1976, 44].
- An individual organism’s potential for obtaining, or retaining, a resource based on one or more relevant attributes, which include fighting ability, physical position with regard to the resource, posturing, size, strength, timing of its relevant behavior, vocalization quality, and weaponry (Parker and Rubenstein 1981, 221, 223–224).
- The chances of winning any contest can be also conceptualized in terms of the resource-holding potential of the participants (Parker 1974). The resource-holding potential is determined by fighting ability, information about the disputed resource, and motivation to invest in the contest.
These are wonderful descriptions and I don’t quibble about filing them under the heading Resource Holding Potential, RHP. Yet they have no explanatory power.
I began carefully considering dog behavior in the seventies, and shortly thereafter was introduced to the German working dog ethological “multi drive” system (play drive, fight drive, prey drive, defense drive, sex drive, food drive, pack drive, etc., etc.). It was a wonderful description of all the varied things that dogs do, and which are heavily influenced by the individual dog’s genetics, however it always ran into itself and overlapped here and there and in order to square off the various inconsistencies and bring a behavior to a point, its adherents would always have to resort to a human psychology. (Meanwhile in apparently another wing of behaviorism, Karen London, is writing that the term prey drive is inaccurate and the notion of drive itself has been discredited. But here we are again with RHP.) At any rate, eventually I came to believe that all these various drives were in fact many “refractions” of one underlying drive, the variants emerging when a particular temperament hits a particular form of resistance. I used to call it fighting drive, but in the eighties I came to prefer the term “Drive-to-Make-Contact.” (Emotion + Stress + Feelings = Drive-to-Make-Contact).
Now putting my model for the canine mind aside, one must always remember that something is going on inside the dog, and one should immediately be suspicious if that something can only be described it in human intellectual, rational terms, as in a psychology of: “If I do this then that--or this--will---or will not--happen---or maybe not---I’ll have to wait and see and then adjust accordingly." That kind of vague wishy washy supposition-ing is the intellectual glue keeping the above description of RHP together.
Bear in mind that this RHP “definition” is an amazingly complex bit of behavioral script in social-system making, one which invariably invokes a ToM, mental capacity arguably far more sophisticated than for example, the human eye. And yet unlike the discussion of the evolution of the human eye, the concept is being accepted without identifying any precursors. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the capacity to communicate intent to a rival, would have had to have evolved in tandem with the equal/opposite suite of traits, mental capacities and display behaviors so that said rivals are capable of receiving the intended message and are then able to act in a complementary manner so that signals don’t get crossed and blow the whole thing up. The signal of the signaler has to find a ready audience in the individual receiving the signal in order for this capacity to evolve. One half of the communication equation can’t evolve without the other half evolving at the same stage of development, neither lagging nor outstripping it, and while also yielding an immediate benefit in some way eons before it arrives at the full blown expression of cost/benefit analysis and reporting of results via display behaviors as modern canine cognitive theorists are asking us to accept. It doesn’t do an individual any good to defer to an inferior that it could have bested and it would prove dangerous to defer to a physically superior individual by displays of vulnerability if that superior doesn’t recognize the signals of deference and be inspired to act accordingly. What if at the beginning of the evolutionary process an individual submits and then is injured or killed because the superior interprets the submission as weakness, or as being wounded and hence as an invitation to be attacked?
So where is the step by step progression of the RHP behavioral module? Instead we are only offered human psychological treatments, fully formed, fully evolved in order to explain what’s being held as a primal organizing principle of canine social life, and which as a matter of fact predates by many epochs the invention of language and the evolution of abstract thought.
Interestingly, if we were just to ask: What is the greatest resource for wolves (large dangerous prey) then the body language between prey and predator would provides these precursors (for example Monty Sloan at Indiana Wolf Park has exhibited photos of wolves displaying vulnerability--i.e. intense display of prey vibratory behavior---when approaching the fenced in Bison) and a model would follow that is hierarchal, fluidly adaptable to circumstances, resonant with the evolution from the wolf into the domesticated dog, demonstrable in the capacity for dogs to work with and live intimately in man’s world, and which explains all the things that dogs do from riding in cars, howling at sirens to patiently sitting for an errant morsel at toddler’s high chair and without inserting thoughts into a bubble hovering over their heads. In NDT the emotional dynamic that step-by-step evolves into a complex social structure is in fact provided: (prey/predator-->male/female-->parent/offspring-->peer-to-peer) with the benefits demonstrable for each participant in any given interaction. How wolves communicate with their prey, is the same dynamic by which they communicate with each other, and a dog with a human as well.