When one sees a dog wagging its tail when its owner arrives or a cat purring when stroked, it seems undeniable that animals can feel emotions. But is this really the case? And if so, what emotions can they experience? In this article, we delve deep into the world of animal emotions, exploring both the scientific evidence and common beliefs. After reading this, you will be surprised at how similar our emotions and those of animals can be.
What Science Says About Animal Emotions
For decades, it was believed that animals, with the possible exception of humans and some primates, did not experience emotions. However, with the development of new technologies, researchers now have greater insight into the workings of animal brains, and the evidence is clear: animals do feel emotions.
The Evidence of Brain Scans
Brain scans have revealed that animals have many of the same brain structures that humans do, including those governing emotions. For instance, researchers who examined brain scans of both humans and dogs found that both species had similar patterns of activity when they viewed happy faces, indicating that dogs also have the ability to experience pleasure.
Neurotransmitters and Hormones
Like humans, animals also have neurotransmitters and hormones that affect their emotional states. For instance, serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, and both dogs and humans have it. When a dog is shown a picture of its owner, its serotonin levels rise, indicating that it is experiencing happiness.
Another way that researchers determine if an animal is experiencing an emotion is by observing its behavior. For instance, when a chimpanzee loses a companion, it exhibits behavior that is similar to what a human would do in the same situation: it may become depressed, stop eating, and disengage from social interactions. This suggests that the chimpanzee is feeling grief, a complex human emotion.
The Range of Animal Emotions
Now that we have established that animals can indeed feel emotions, the question remains: what emotions do they experience?
The Basic Emotions
Research has found that animals experience a range of basic emotions, including happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. For instance, dogs wag their tails when they are happy and cower when they are afraid.
However, animals are also capable of experiencing more complex emotions, such as jealousy, guilt, and empathy. For instance, when one monkey was given a treat while another was not, the untreated monkey became angry, suggesting a sense of jealousy. Dogs have been found to display guilt-like behaviors, such as avoiding eye contact and hiding, after being scolded by their owners. And elephants have been observed displaying empathy toward their injured companions, showing concern and comforting them.
The Implications of Animal Emotions
Given that animals experience emotions similar to those of humans, what are the implications of this finding?
Treatment of Animals
One important implication is that we need to treat animals with respect and kindness. The idea that animals are not capable of feeling pain, sadness, or happiness may have led to cruel treatment in the past. But now that we know that animals can feel emotions, we have a responsibility to treat them humanely.
Another implication is that we should take into account animal emotions when considering conservation efforts. For instance, if we are going to relocate animals from one area to another, we should do so in a way that minimizes stress and fear, just as we would for human beings. By considering the emotional well-being of animals, we can ensure that they are not further traumatized during conservation efforts.
The Final Verdict
After examining both scientific evidence and common beliefs, it is clear that animals do, indeed, feel emotions. Although we may not fully understand the complexity of animal emotions, we must accept that animals can experience pleasure, pain, happiness, and sadness, much like humans. Such an understanding should inform our treatment, care and our conservation efforts towards animals of all kinds.
Common Questions and Answers
- Do animals experience the same emotions as humans?
Although animal emotions may not be identical to human emotions, they do experience a range of similar emotions , ranging from basic emotions such as happiness, anger, sadness, to more complex emotions such as empathy and guilt.
- Why is it important to study animal emotions?
Understanding animal emotions can help us better care for the animals we share our world with and inform our treatment of them, leading to better conservation and concern towards living beings other than us.
- How do scientists study animal emotions?
Scientists study animal emotions through behavioral observations and the use of brain scans to determine similar brain activity and chemical responses in animals similar to human emotions.
- Erickson, C. (2017). Do Animals Feel Emotions? Inside The Animal Mind. Accessed September 7, 2021. <https://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170207-do-animals-have-feelings-scientists-weigh-in>
- Martin, E. (2021). The Science of Animal Emotions. PetMD. Accessed September 7, 2021. <https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/science-animal-emotions>
- National Geographic (2018). Yes, Animals Have Emotions. Here’s How We Know. Accessed September 7, 2021. <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/do-animals-have-emotions>