Man Traversing California in Bear Suit Prompts Look at Human Motivation

400-mile costumed journey raises questions about human behavior

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The road from Los Angeles to San Francisco has a new anime-inspired traveler. A man in a Japanese animation-style bear suit is hiking from one of California’s most famous cities to another. What motivates us to do what we do?

Close up of shoes, person walking on road
Photo By New Africa / Shutterstock

Jesse Larlos said he doesn’t know exactly where the urge came from for him to dress up in a bear suit and walk 400 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but it was an unmistakable compulsion. He began his trek on April 12 and has garnered plenty of attention on social media and in-person to keep going. However, he’s raised over $7,000 on GoFundMe and plans to hold an online vote to pick where he donates his funding.

Larlos’s journey raises a larger question about humans: Why do people do the things that we do? In his video series Psychology of Human Behavior, Dr. David W. Martin, Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University, offered insight.

Human Behavior

“A homeostatic system is a system that behaves in order to stay in the same state,” Dr. Martin said. “In your house you have a homeostatic system, comprised of your furnace and your air conditioning and your thermostat, and it works to stay in the same state.

“If it gets a little too warm, the thermostat indicates that; and if it gets a little too cold, the thermostat indicates that and the little bimetallic strip makes contact and turns on the furnace and it acts to stay in the same state within a certain range of what you set on the thermostat.”

In much the same way, our bodies have homeostatic systems that try to keep us in a particular state. For example, when we’re hungry enough, our drive to find food will overpower almost any other need.

Sometimes, the need and the drive aren’t so closely related. Dr. Martin said that SCUBA divers have an important need to continue exhaling as they surface from the depths, but they feel no physical pain—or drive—to do so. It’s simply important for survival, as humans have discovered over the decades. Likewise, any animal of any species may have a sex drive, but most feel no urgent need to reproduce, even though doing so will help propagate their species.

The Intriguing Case of the Hypothalamus

Dr. Martin cited several lab studies in which the hypothalamus, located deep in the brain, was indicative of hunger. As parts of the hypothalamus were removed in lab rats, the rats would overeat. In some extreme cases, they would even eat themselves to death. However, he said, the hypothalamus is more than just an on/off switch for hunger.

“In fact, there are some strange cases where children developed rickets and had a calcium deficiency, and that child would start gnawing on the wall because the plaster in the wall apparently has calcium in it,” he said. “The parents were concerned and took the child to the hospital and they put the child into a room that didn’t have that kind of wall and the child in fact, I believe, in that case died.

“The child’s body was smart enough to know it needed the calcium somehow, and smart enough to know that the wall had some calcium.”

When we have immediate and urgent needs, our bodies will often communicate them to us, albeit in mysterious ways. As for walking from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a bear suit, the precise motive is anyone’s guess.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily