How amazing is it to sit around a campfire? Watching those beautiful, flickering flames; listening to the gorgeous crackle of firewood. It’s mesmerising. Humans are innately fascinated by fire, but our relationship with fire is complex. Sometimes, fire fascination turns into something more dangerous. Sometimes, humans intentionally set fires. And guess what? It seems that some birds do this too! In episode 18 of Sister Doctor Squared, Aleena and Janine explore some research around firestarting behaviour. For the inner square segment, Janine continues in the theme of intelligent birds, while Aleena regales us around her recent experience of context-specific memory!
What are some developmental risk factors for fire setting in young children?
Aleena tells us about a study from Canada, where researchers interviewed and gave questionnaires to 57 caregivers of children who set fires from 2 to 6 years of age. The children had been referred to an arson prevention program after starting, on average, 8 fires each.
According to the caregivers, the most frequent reason for setting fires was curiosity. Motivations like boredom, anger, and attention seeking were far less common.
Kids who had an accomplice were more likely to set more fires than kids who didn’t have an accomplice, and kids who were exposed to images and/or videos of fires being set were more likely to have set more fires. What effect might media be having on kids’ curiosity about fire? It’s hard to say with an observational study like this – but these are really interesting results.
Also, kids who were disciplined or punished for their firesetting behaviour were more likely to start more fires. Again, since this is an observational study, we can’t say there is any causation here. It may just be that some children continue to start fires despite being disciplined, because their curiosity about fire is so intense.
The researchers also looked at mental health, home situations, behavioural problems, and more. Listen in for the full summary!
“Fight fire fascination” – a program in our home state
Since curiosity about fire starts early, it makes sense to develop programs for young children to make sure that fire fascination doesn’t tun into something more dangerous. The “Fight Fire Fascination” program in our home state of Queensland is available for adolescents and kids as young as 3 years and has helped many kinds stop unsafe fire involvement. Maybe your state or community has something similar?
Intentional fire-spreading behaviour in raptors. Yes, for real!
Janine covers the coolest study which details accounts of intentional fire-spreading by three raptors in Northern Australia (the black kite, whistling kite and brown falcon). Sadly, there are yet to be any videos of this behaviour, but credible evidence is provided through independent Aboriginal community groups, verbal accounts, written accounts, and first-hand observations by two of the paper’s authors! All agree that the behaviour appears to be intentional. Large groups of raptors even gather by the side of these intentionally-lit fires waiting for the stressed and injured prey items to emerge. What a feast to be had! Janine also highlights the fundamental importance of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge for fire management, and all ecological decision-making in Australia.
Janine continues in the theme of bird intelligence! Researchers at the University of Sunshine Coast were doing a study on Australian magpies. The wanted to track their movements and interactions. They attached tracking devices to 5 magpies, but they ended up seeing something very unexpected: the magpies helped each other remove the tracking devices! This is exciting evidence of problem solving and cooperation in a bird, which would have been equal parts fascinating, funny and infuriating for the researchers!
Aleena regales us with the story of how she ended up standing in the shower late one night, fully clothed, staring at the shower taps*. What was she doing? Trying to recall an important memory – obviously! Get across context-specific/dependent memory: one of Aleena’s most nerdy additions to Inner Square yet.
*Not turned on (thankfully this was not required 😊)