Emotion in animals
There is no scientific consensus
Scientific consensus
Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity. Scientific consensus is not by itself a scientific argument, and it is not part of the...

 on emotion in animals, that is, what emotion
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

s certain species of animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s, including human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s, feel. The debate concerns primarily mammals and birds, although emotions have also been postulated for other vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

s and even for some invertebrates.

Animal lovers, scientists
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, philosophers
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, and others who interact with animals, have suggested answers but the core question has proven difficult to answer since animals cannot speak of their experience. Society recognizes that animals can feel pain, as demonstrated by the criminalization of animal cruelty. Animal expressions of apparent pleasure are ambiguous as to whether this is emotion, or simply innate responses, perhaps for approval or other hard-wired cues. The ambiguity is a source of controversy as there is no certainty which views, if any, reflect reality. That said, extreme behaviourists would say that human "feeling" is also merely a hard-wired response to external stimuli.

In recent years, research has become available which expands prior understandings of animal language
Animal communication
Animal communication is any behavior on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. The study of animal communication, is sometimes called Zoosemiotics has played an important part in the...

, cognition
Animal cognition
Animal cognition is the title given to the study of the mental capacities of non-human animals. It has developed out of comparative psychology, but has also been strongly influenced by the approach of ethology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology...

 and tool use
Tool use by animals
Tools are used by some animals, particularly primates, to perform simple tasks such as the acquisition of food, or grooming. Originally thought to be a skill only possessed by humans, tool use requires some level of intelligence. Primates have been observed exploiting sticks and stones to...

, and even sexuality
Animal sexuality
Animal sexual behaviour takes many different forms, even within the same species. Among animals other than humans, researchers have observed monogamy, promiscuity, sex between species, sexual arousal from objects or places, sex apparently via duress or coercion, copulation with dead animals,...

. Emotions arise in the mammalian brain, or the limbic system
Limbic system
The limbic system is a set of brain structures including the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, septum, limbic cortex and fornix, which seemingly support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long term memory, and olfaction. The term "limbic" comes from the Latin...

, which human beings share in common with other mammals as well as many other species.


While humans have had differing views of animal emotion, the scientific examination of animal emotion has led to little information beyond a recognition that animals have the capacity for pain and fear, and such responses as are needed for survival. Historically, prior to the rise of sciences such as ethology
Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology....

, interpretation of animal behaviour tended to favour a kind of minimalism known as behaviourism, in this context the refusal to ascribe to an animal a capability beyond the least demanding that would explain a behaviour; anything more than this was seen as unwarranted anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics to animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid 1700s...

. Put crudely, the behaviourist argument is, why should humans postulate consciousness and all its near-human implications in animals to explain some behaviour, if mere stimulus-response is a sufficient explanation to produce the same effects?

The cautious wording of Beth Dixon's 2001 paper on animal emotion exemplifies this viewpoint:
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is an American author, residing in New Zealand. Masson is best known for his conclusions about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis...

 expresses a similar view:
There is considerable uncertainty and difficulty related to the interpretation
Interpretation (logic)
An interpretation is an assignment of meaning to the symbols of a formal language. Many formal languages used in mathematics, logic, and theoretical computer science are defined in solely syntactic terms, and as such do not have any meaning until they are given some interpretation...

 and ambiguity
Ambiguity of words or phrases is the ability to express more than one interpretation. It is distinct from vagueness, which is a statement about the lack of precision contained or available in the information.Context may play a role in resolving ambiguity...

 of emotion: an animal may make certain movements and sounds, and show certain brain and chemical signals when its body is damaged in a particular way. But does this mean an animal feels—is aware
Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of...

 of—pain as we are, or does it merely mean it is programmed to act a certain way with certain stimuli? Similar questions can be asked of any activity an animal (including a human) might undertake, in principle. Many scientists regard all emotion and cognition (in humans and animals) as having a purely mechanistic basis.

Because of the philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 questions of consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

 and mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

 are involved, many scientists have stayed away from examining animal and human emotion, and have studied instead, measurable brain functions, through neuroscience
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics,...


The author Marc Bekoff
Marc Bekoff
Marc Bekoff is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He currently lives in Colorado and lectures internationally on issues of animal behavior, cognitive ethology , and behavioral ecology.Like Jane Goodall, Marc Bekoff is an ethologist, which...

 also provided evidence of animals having emotions in his book, The Emotional Lives of Animals. The following is an excerpt from his book:


Primates and in particular great apes
Great Apes
Great Apes may refer to*Great apes, species in the biological family Hominidae, including humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans*Great Apes , a 1997 novel by Will Self...

 are candidates for highly developed capabilities for empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

 and theories of mind
Theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own...

. Great apes have highly complex social systems. Young apes and their mothers have very strong bonds of attachment. Often when a baby chimpanzee or gorilla dies, the mother will carry the body around for several days. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall
Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE , is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National...

 has described chimpanzees as exhibiting mournful behavior. See notably the example of the gorilla
Gorillas are the largest extant species of primates. They are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. Gorillas are divided into two species and either four or five subspecies...

Koko (gorilla)
Koko is a female western lowland gorilla who, according to Francine "Penny" Patterson, is able to understand more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, and understand approximately 2,000 words of spoken English....

, who expressed sadness over the death of her pet cat, All Ball.


Research suggests that canines
Canidae is the biological family of carnivorous and omnivorous mammals that includes wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes, and domestic dogs. A member of this family is called a canid . The Canidae family is divided into two tribes: Canini and Vulpini...

 can experience negative emotions in a similar manner to people, including the equivalent of certain chronic and acute psychological conditions. The classic experiment for this was Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman
Martin E. P. "Marty" Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. His theory of "learned helplessness" is widely respected among scientific psychologists....

's foundational experiments and theory of learned helplessness
Learned helplessness
Learned helplessness, as a technical term in animal psychology and related human psychology, means a condition of a human person or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance...

 at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 in 1965, as an extension of his interest in depression:
A further series of experiments showed that (similar to humans) under conditions of long term intense psychological stress, around 1/3 of dogs do not develop learned helplessness or long term depression. Instead these animals somehow managed to find a way to handle the unpleasant situation in spite of their past experience. The corresponding characteristic in humans has been found to correlate highly with an explanatory style
Explanatory style
Explanatory style is a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative. Psychologists have identified three components in explanatory style:...

 and optimistic
The Oxford English Dictionary defines optimism as having "hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view." The word is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best." Being optimistic, in the typical sense...

Attitude (psychology)
An attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual's degree of like or dislike for something. Attitudes are generally positive or negative views of a person, place, thing, or event— this is often referred to as the attitude object...

 and lower levels of emotional rigidity regarding expectations, that views the situation as other than personal, pervasive, or permanent. Such studies highlighted similar distinctions between people who adapt and those who break down, under long term psychological pressure, which were conducted in the 1950s in the realm of brainwashing.

Since this time, symptoms analogous to clinical depression, neurosis
Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic...

 and other psychological conditions have been in general accepted as being within the scope of canine emotion as well.

Psychology research has shown that human faces are asymmetrical
Facial symmetry
Facial symmetry, is one element of bodily symmetry, including fluctuating asymmetry. Along with traits such as averageness and youthfulness it influences judgements of aesthetic traits of physical attractiveness and beauty, and is associated with fitness-linked traits including health, It is also...

 with the gaze instinctively moving to the right side of a face upon encountering other humans to obtain information about their emotions and state. Research at the University of Lincoln
University of Lincoln
The University of Lincoln is an English university founded in 1992, with origins tracing back to the foundation and association with the Hull School of Art 1861....

 (2008) shows that dogs share this instinct when meeting a human being, and only when meeting a human being (ie, not other animals or other dogs). As such they are the only non-primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

 species known to do so.

The existence and nature of personality traits in dogs have been studied (15329 dogs of 164 different breeds) and five consistent and stable "narrow traits" identified, described as playfulness, curiosity/fearlessness, chase-proneness, sociability and aggressiveness. A further higher order axis for shyness–boldness was also identified.


The emotions of cats have also been studied scientifically. It has been shown that cats can learn
Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

 to manipulate their owners through vocalizations that are similar to the cries of human babies. Some cats learn to add a purr
A purr is a sound made by all species of felids and is a part of cat communication. It varies between cats , and from species to species, but can be characterized as a tonal buzzing. Domestic cats purr in a frequency of 25 to 150 vibrations per second...

 to the cry, which makes it less harmonious to humans and therefore harder to ignore. Individual cats learn to make these cries through operant conditioning
Operant conditioning
Operant conditioning is a form of psychological learning during which an individual modifies the occurrence and form of its own behavior due to the association of the behavior with a stimulus...

; when a particular cry elicits a positive response from a human, the cat is more likely to use that cry in the future.


A 2007 study by the University of Guelph Scientists in Canada suggests that fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 may have their own separate personalities. The study examined a group of trout
Trout is the name for a number of species of freshwater and saltwater fish belonging to the Salmoninae subfamily of the family Salmonidae. Salmon belong to the same family as trout. Most salmon species spend almost all their lives in salt water...

 that were visually identical. The study concluded that different fish within the same group exhibited different personality traits. Some fish were more willing to take risks in unknown waters than others when taken from their environment and introduced to a dark tube. Some fish were more social than others while some fish preferred being alone. Fish were also shown to have different preferences as far as eating habits.

See also

  • Animal cognition
    Animal cognition
    Animal cognition is the title given to the study of the mental capacities of non-human animals. It has developed out of comparative psychology, but has also been strongly influenced by the approach of ethology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology...

  • Animal communication
    Animal communication
    Animal communication is any behavior on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. The study of animal communication, is sometimes called Zoosemiotics has played an important part in the...

  • Monkey painting
    Monkey painting
    During the late 1950s biologists began to study the nature of art in humans. Of the theories proposed few had such a striking effect as those based on observations of primate paintings, hundreds of which were cataloged by Desmond Morris...

  • Altruism in animals
    Altruism in animals
    Altruism is a well-documented animal behaviour, which appears most obviously in kin relationships but may also be evident amongst wider social groups, in which an animal sacrifices its own well-being for the benefit of another animal.- Overview :...

  • Thomas Nagel
    Thomas Nagel
    Thomas Nagel is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics...

     (seminal paper, "What is it like to be a bat?")
  • Neuroethology
    Neuroethology is the evolutionary and comparative approach to the study of animal behavior and its underlying mechanistic control by the nervous system...

  • The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
    The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
    The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is a book by Charles Darwin, published in 1872, concerning genetically determined aspects of behaviour. It was published thirteen years after On The Origin of Species and is, along with his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Darwin's main consideration...

  • Pain in animals
    Pain in animals
    Pain is a sensory and emotional experience often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain says pain is a conscious experience involving unpleasantness, i.e. suffering...

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