4 wild facts about animals’ (very real) emotions

Every animal lover knows it’s true: Animals are capable of complex, and very real, emotions. Our society doesn’t quite accept this—yet—but research is continuing to put forth evidence way beyond the anecdotal. The latest? A study revealing dogs’ amazing capability to recognize human emotions (more on this below).

But dogs are not the only ones. Here are four amazing facts about all species of animals and their complex, humanlike emotions:

1. Dogs and human emotions: Dog owners (me included) could probably have already told these researchers this, but now science confirms evidence of what animal lovers already know: Dogs are able to recognize the emotions on our faces! The study, which you can read more about here, confirmed that dogs clearly understand the difference between happy and angry expressions. The study didn’t look at cats or other animals, but my sister Charlotte reports her Persian Paddington is totally clued into her emotions; he always pads over gently in support if she’s feeling blue.

2. A whale’s complex emotional center: Recent research points to a highly complex “limbic system” in whales that may even be more complex than humans’. The limbic system supports emotion, memory and other brain functions—and it’s so highly developed in whales that neurobiologist Lori Marino was inspired to co-author the “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans,” which states that cetaceans have the right to “life, liberty and well-being.” Marino is also director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which works to gain “legal rights for members of species other than our own.” This article delves even deeper into whales’ and dolphins’ advanced communication, cognition and emotions.

3. Marc Beckoff’s comprehensive research into animal emotions: Marc Beckoff—author, award-winning scientist, behavioral ecologist and columnist on animal emotions for Psychology Today, who also wrote a nice endorsement for my first book Animal Reiki—has spent his life documenting and researching animals and their very real emotions. His book The Emotional Lives of Animals, which shares scientific and anecdotal case studies of all types of animals feeling joy, sorrow, embarrassment, humor, altruism, empathy and more—questions the ethics of using animals for food, experiments and the like. (I recommend everyone read this and share it!) He’s also co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This recent article by Beckoff in Huffington Post argues research on rats should be “abolished once and for all.”

4. Jane Goodall’s life’s work revealing chimpanzees as emotional creatures: As noted above, conservationist Jane Goodall co-founded EETA with Beckoff. And after 50-plus years in the field, her observations have concluded without a doubt that wild chimpanzees are not just biologically close to humans in their DNA—they share a wide-ranging, and very human, emotional capacity as well. Here’s a TED Talk from Goodall about what really separates humans from chimpanzees (hint: it’s just language):

And on a parting note, enjoy this TED Talk on moral behaviors observed in animals:

What are your thoughts on the emotions of animals?

{For more on the subject, check out this, this and this.}

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Kathleen Prasad

Kathleen Prasad is an entrepreneur, author, educator, spiritual seeker and animal advocate living in beautiful Marin County, California, with her husband, daughter, dog and two horses. She loves being with animals, listening to hip-hop, eating out at vegan restaurants, riding dressage, hiking in the redwoods and traveling the world to meet animal people.
You can learn more about Kathleen here.

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Comments (4)

  • Avatar

    Frans Stiene

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    Thank you Kathleen,
    I think that there is so much more to animals then we acknowledge.
    Thanks for sharing the Ted Talks as well.
    Love
    Frans

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Kathleen Prasad

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      Yes I think that is so true, Frans. I guess it’s our human nature 🙂 I always love Ted talks as well!

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Angela

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    It’s bizarre to me that anyone can spend time with an animal and not see them as an individual being, just as we humans are, who are very much capable of feeling and loving (well perhaps that doesn’t go for all humans).

    I had a bit of a heated discussion online a few years ago with someone who was adamant that dogs aren’t capable of love. This was someone who had spent a lot of time with dogs, had dogs of their own, seemed a decent person with affection for dogs, but was very certain that dogs don’t love and got quite cross with me for disagreeing.

    Animals have emotions. Animals love. Of course!

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Kathleen Prasad

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      Thanks Angela, for standing up for animals! 🙂 Blessings, Kathleen

      Reply

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