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Description: OK, quick, without any reflection, answer these questions: Do animals have emotions? Or do they have the same emotional range and depth that we do? If you are like most people you probably hesitated a bit even if you decided to answer yes to either of those questions. Why hesitate? Well, maybe your feelings about the questions go back to the general notion that we humans like to think of ourselves as special and different and most certainly not just another one of the animals on our planet. A number of years ago my Labrador Retriever took advantage of an open gate and wandered off to explore the neighbourhood. She was apprehended by the city animal control people (the dog-catcher) and I was contacted to come down to the pound and bail her out. When you arrive there (in my fairly large city) you are directed to look at a bulletin board covered with dog “mug shots” to see if you see your dog. I was struck at the time that my dog, who was definitely there on the wall of shame, seemed to me to have a look on her face reflecting an array of emotions that boiled down to “I’m in big trouble”. When I paid the fine and “sprang” her we were both quite happy to be re-united. Anyway, the article linked below asks us to challenge the assumption that some or any emotions are the sole preview of human beings and consider how we might investigate whether animals experience emotions and if so which ones, to what degree, and under what circumstances? Give it a read and see if it shifts any of your assumptions about animals and emotion.

Source: Your Dog Feels as Guilty as She Looks, Frans de Waal, The New York Times.

Date: March 8, 2019


Article Link:

So, what do you think now? There are a number of methodological issues to looking at animal emotions beyond examining our own assumption. Certainly our dogs may look ashamed when we speak sternly to them and happily ignore their transgressions when we do but the case of Lorenz’s dog that bit him in the frenzy of a dog fight Lorenz was trying to break up cannot seem to reflect anything else than deep guilt and shame. A quite touching emotional display can be seen in this video of a 60 year old chimpanzee who is old and dying in a zoo and is visited by one of her favourite, retired, caregivers ( ). See that and then tell me you want to withhold emotions from animals. So, perhaps, it is well past time that we all put on our rain faces and get on with an look at emotions that is not humancentric.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Do animals experience emotions?
  2. What are some of the ways in which studies or situations have been designed to look at emotions in animals?
  3. Why is it that we (humans) seem hesitant to attribute to or see emotions in animals??

References (Read Further):

De Waal, Frans, (2019) Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, Norton.

Boissy, A., Manteuffel, G., Jensen, M. B., Moe, R. O., Spruijt, B., Keeling, L. J., … & Bakken, M. (2007). Assessment of positive emotions in animals to improve their welfare. Physiology & behavior, 92(3), 375-397.

Preston, S. D., & De Waal, F. B. (2002). The communication of emotions and the possibility of empathy in animals. Altruistic love: Science, philosophy, and religion in dialogue, 284-308.

Morris, P., Knight, S., & Lesley, S. (2012). Belief in animal mind: does familiarity with animals influence beliefs about animal emotions?. Society & Animals, 20(3), 211-224.

Dawkins, M. S. (2000). Animal minds and animal emotions. American Zoologist, 40(6), 883-888.