|Are animals able to feel emotions, as humans do?
(Like grief, happiness, excitement, etc.).|
|Question Date: 2018-01-06|
Thanks for the great question!
Psychologists are scientists who study emotions.
These scientists see emotions as an organized and
adaptive response to whatever situation a person
finds themselves in. What I mean by this is that
particular situations produce different
emotional responses, and those responses
prepare us to deal with that situation. For
example, when someone is scared, their heart rate
goes up, preparing them to take action if needed.
The biologist Charles Darwin recognized that
humans and animals share many of the same emotions
in an 1872 book he wrote called The Expression of
the Emotions in Man and Animals. In this book
Darwin demonstrated that people from around the
world make the same facial expressions when they
feel the same emotions. For instance, smiles
around the world all mean a person is happy. This
is true for people of all ages, too.
Darwin also noted that the facial expressions
of closely related species like chimpanzees are
highly similar to human expressions. From this
insight we now know that animals feel emotions
that, in some ways, are similar to those of
humans, especially highly social mammals like apes
and dogs. These animals express their anger,
fear, but also happiness and excitement through
their expressions and communications. Elephants,
in fact, are known to even grieve for the death of
When talking about the emotions of animals,
however, we must be careful not to
anthropomorphize, that is, to think about them
as though they were human. But animal emotions
remind us of our shared evolutionary origins.
Thanks again for the great question.
Fascinating question! As a paleontologist who
studies creatures that lived millions of years
ago, I think that I can provide a little insight
even though I'm not an expert.
First, it's useful to remember that humans are but
one kind of animal (also a kind of mammal,
primate, etc.), so it's best not to split the
world into humans and "animals." So...humans
obviously experience the kinds of emotions you
mention, raising the question of what other
animals do too.
Humans are unique in being able to talk. How
can we tell how other animals are feeling, if they
feel at all? Well...in the case of my dog
Huxley, it's usually pretty easy. As I go to work
in the morning and say "bye bye," he drop his ears
and collapses on the floor. I'm pretty sure he's
sad. Similarly when I open the door after coming
home, he leaps all over the place and runs in
circles, pretty clear indications he's happy.
I would be amazed if not all mammals have the
emotions you describe.
As we move to other animals, however, it gets
harder and harder to tell. Birds? Probably,
but I'm guessing. Ants? Probably not, but
again I'm not sure. Perhaps some of my colleagues
in psychology can answer your question more
I'm quite certain, though, the humans are not
the only animals that feel happy or sad.
Yes, many animals at least do feel emotions. There
are probably some that do not, but certainly many
do. Mammals, birds, other reptiles, and
cephalopods (squid and their relatives) are all
well-known to have emotions. Most other
animals are less intelligent, and it's difficult
to determine what, if any, emotions they feel, but
since emotions are hardly unique to humans, it
is likely that even less intelligent animals can
still feel them.
The simple answer is yes, but it really
what kind of animal and which emotion you are
wondering about. Early on in the history of life,
animals evolved the ability to move toward those
things that cause pleasure, and move away from
those leading to pain. For example, reptiles, such
as iguanas, seek out warmth, which triggers
physiological responses of pleasure, such as
body-temperature and heart-rate increase, which
are also what happen to humans during pleasure.
Basic emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness,
disgust, surprise and happiness are possible to
recognize in many animals, because they trigger
characteristic automated action programs, such as
physiological changes, vocalizations and facial
expressions. However, some emotional states may
correspond to internal changes in body and brain
function that may be too private and subjective to
Scientists can measure hormones and
neurotransmitters that are released in the brain
during emotional states of animals. For example,
just like human brains, other animal (for example
rat) brains also release dopamine and opiates
while happily playing. The joy that “play” brings
is a social emotion, which is a more complex state
than the excitement of finding food. Examples of
social emotions are grief, guilt, embarrassment,
shame, contempt, jealousy, envy, pride, admiration
and compassion. These are also accompanied by
automated bodily reactions, but also involve more
complex conscious reflection that evolved more
recently. Two of these may even be exclusively
human: admiration, and the kind of compassion that
focuses on the mental and social suffering of
others. Primates, like the great apes seem to
have evolved compassion too, but only the kind
toward physical pain of others.
As Darwin first
noted, the differences among the emotional lives
of many animals are differences in degree rather
than in kind.
There’s a lot of debate in the zoology and
psychology fields about whether or not animals
experience emotions as we do, and bthere’s a lot
of evidence that they do!/b There are examples of
animals feeling a really wide range of emotions.
For example, elephants mourn the death of an
individual in their group:
Yes, animals have feelings. There is a
ton of observational evidence to support the claim
that animals exhibit some kind of emotions. If you
ride horses, you will know that a horse can feel
excited, happy, or afraid. If you have a pet you
will know that animals can have distinct
personality traits such as being curious,
friendly, or stubborn. The difficulty is that we
simply cannot know what it is like to be an animal
other than human, and so we don't know if an
animal's feelings are similar to our own
experience of emotions. Different animals have
different cognitive abilities so it is very
difficult to know which animals can have which
emotions. Certainly, mammals that have highly
developed brains and highly developed societal
systems, (such as whales, elephants, dolphins, and
apes) experience a range of emotions such as
grief, joy, jealousy, affection, loyalty, and
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