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Do Animals Have Emotions?

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Do Animals Have Emotions?

By Marc Bekoff, PhD, The Bark

One of the hottest questions in the study of animal behavior is, “Do animals have emotions?” And the simple and correct answer is, “Of course they do.” Just look at them, listen to them and, if you dare, smell the odors that pour out when they interact with friends and foes. Look at their faces, tails, bodies and, most importantly, their eyes. What we see on the outside tells us a lot about what’s happening inside animals’ heads and hearts. Animal emotions aren’t all that mysterious.

When I first began my studies three decades ago -asking the question, “What does it feel like to be a dog or a wolf?” researchers were almost all skeptics who spent their time wondering if dogs, cats, chimpanzees and other animals felt anything. Since feelings don’t fit under a microscope, these scientists usually didn’t find any, and, as I like to say, I’m glad I wasn’t their dog!

But now there are far fewer skeptics; prestigious scientific journals publish essays on joy in rats, grief in elephants and empathy in mice and no one blinks. The question of real importance is not whether animals have emotions, but why animal emotions have evolved. Simply put, emotions have evolved as adaptations in numerous species. They serve as a social glue to bond animals with one another and also catalyze and regulate a wide variety of social encounters among friends and foes.

Emotions permit animals to behave adaptively and flexibly, using various behavior patterns in a wide variety of venues. Research has shown that mice are empathic rodents, but it turns out they’re fun-loving as well. We also read accounts of pleasure-seeking iguanas; amorous whales; angry baboons; elephants who suffer from psychological flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD- elephants have a huge hippocampus, a brain structure in the limbic system that’s important in processing emotions); grieving otters, magpies and donkeys; sentient fish; and a sighted dog who serves as a seeing-eye dog for his blind canine buddy. Today, the paradigm has shifted to such an extent that the burden of ‘proof’ now falls on those who still argue that animals don’t experience emotions.

Many researchers also recognize that we have to be anthropomorphic (attribute human traits to animals) when we discuss animal emotions, but that if we do it carefully, we can still give due consideration to the animals points of view. No matter what we call it, researchers agree that animals and humans share many traits, including emotions. Thus, we’re not inserting something human into animals; rather, we’re identifying commonalities and then using human language to communicate what we observe. Being anthropomorphic is doing what’s natural and necessary to understand animal emotions.

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235 comments

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2:58PM PDT on Aug 11, 2013

The answer is obvious to everyone here. We've all found that the behaviour of the animals we know can't be explained any other way!

7:01PM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

What a stupid question, of course animals has feelings

12:03PM PDT on Sep 3, 2012

"Do animals have emotions?"

A, if you have to ask this question, then you probably lack intelligence and emotion.

B, their emotion and intelligence quotients far surpass that of the two-legged beast called "man," the most dangerous, calamitous creature on earth.

9:35PM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

Of course every living creature has feelings. Why would anyone doubt it?

8:29AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

yes they do,each animal has is own distinct personality and way of responding

3:05PM PDT on Oct 1, 2011

People who think that animals don't have emotions probably make a living in a field that involves causing harm to animals. Saying that creatures other than humans don't feel emotions helps to absolve any guilt they may experience, and in their mind, justifies any abuse.

1:01PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

of course they do. I have a minature poodle and she shows her emotions all the time. When people come to visit she gets so excited about it.

7:57AM PDT on Sep 1, 2011

Definitely all animals have emotions.

7:10AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011

Of course animals have emotions! Just watch the behaviour of your cat or dog! Or watch some of the wonderful natural world programmes and see the lioness or tigress caring for her young. Or elephants. Or . . . where do I stop?

2:01AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

Thanks everyone for the great comments. Care2 people are a sane bunch! Remember that the same people doing these studies think that its ok to experiment on animals because they dont feel anything. To me I wonder who these so called smart people can even get funding to do studies on things everyone else already knows, yet apparently they have high IQ's. Animals are truly phenomenal, they exhibit Unconditional Love - the highest kind and most difficult to master, and express joy like children in love with the world. All animals have personality and emotions whether they are chickens, guinea pigs or dogs, or in the wild. For all we know bacteria might have emotion!

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