What is Trans-Species Psychology?

In contrast to the notion that “human” and “animal” are cognitively distinguished by the quality of self-awareness, trans-species psychology posits that there could in fact be common ties. Trans-species theorists suggest that the neurological components lending themselves to critical thinking and emotional depth are preserved between human and nonhuman cognition.

The science of sentience

Trans-species psychology is argument for the existence of a shared base brain model, behavioral pattern, and overall mind map between humankind and nonhumans. The concept was coined by psychologist and ecologist Gay A. Bradshaw, who claims that major empirical data collected from years of study dating back to Charles Darwin’s early 19th century naturalistic studies create strong implications of deeper mind complexit in nonhumans than what many may assume.

Complex emotional experiences in nonhuman mammals

In her observations, Bradshaw observed what she and like-minded peers believe to be indicators of self-awareness, trauma, empathy, mourning, and various other significations of heightened mental processing in mammals. The capacity of nonhuman animals to experience psychological trauma in particular has been a recurrent point of support present in Bradshaw’s observation of both controlled case studies with captive animals and undomesticated social animals in their natural habitats.

Wildlife and captivity observations

One of the highest-profile cases that Bradshaw made for her theory was related to the observation of elephants in the wild, particularly their reactions to poacher attacks and the subsequent fallout of their social structures. In a 2005 study, Bradshaw found that free-ranging elephants who had survived particularly traumatic hunting and dislocation experiences were far more prone to antisocial tendencies.

Normally a benign and mild-tempered animal, elephants who had been heavily victimized by poachers were shown to engage in more intra and inter-species violence. The elephants that had suffered much more significantly than others showed signs of extreme hypervigilance, and even a tendency to be less caring towards their offspring.

All of the abnormal and negative psychological symptoms exhibited by victimized elephants led Bradshaw to draw a comparison between their mental state and similar psychosocial patterns of human beings who suffer from PTSD.

One of Bradshaw’s more notable studies of PTSD-like symptoms in traumatized animals involved Jeannie, a chimpanzee that had been used for extensive biomedical testing with numerous controlled disease applications. Deprived of the social network that chimpanzees require to function normally, Jeannie developed habits of self-mutilation and an oscillating disposition between unresponsive trances and extreme aggression.

Origins of the term

The core of the term comes from its prefix, trans, which roughly translates to “across” or “beyond” in Latin; fittingly, this is used to represent the belief that the theory’s proponents have of emotional capacity and self-awareness being beyond the exclusive limitation of human cognition.


The common lines between human and nonhuman reactions to trauma have challenged assumptions that human beings alone are distinguished by self-awareness and the capacity for grief. Bradshaw claimed that the trans component of the psychological theory she established has the potential to “contextualize” humans beings as an embedded part of the greater biological map of the animal kingdom, rather than being apart from or ascended from it altogether.

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