We all love our animals, but have you ever wondered if they love us back? If so, how do they express those emotions? What do scientists think?
Do Animals Feel Emotion: The Scientific Debate
This idea has been studied by scientists for decades, and new research suggest that animals are capable of feeling empathy. Carl Safina, Animal Expert and Author of the book Beyond Words: How Animals Think and Feel is convinced that animals have consciousness and an ability to emotionally sense the world around them. During an interview at Stony Brook University on Long Island New York, Safina states, “We both try to stay alive, get food and shelter, and raise some young for the next generation. Animals are no different from us in that regard, and I think that their presence here on Earth is tremendously enriching.” Safina believes that seeing animals as like humans is the key to breaking down the animal-human barrier that exists that allows people to justify the cruel acts placed upon animals.
The idea that humans and animals are vastly different is backed by decades of previous research, which declared that animals do not have emotions or a conscious—and these characteristics were the deciding difference between man and animal. Safina adds, “In the beginning there was almost no neurology, nothing was known of how mental processes worked. Animal behavior was based on fables, like foxes are clever, tortoises are persistent. So, scientists said, ‘All we can know about animals is based on what they do. We can only describe what they do. We can’t know anything about their minds.’” He attributes this type of thinking to the assumption that if we can’t know anything about their consciousness, then it must not exist. Interesting enough, he adds that the public’s view of animal emotions is vastly different than that of past scientific research, and that most people believe their pets can feel emotions.
How Do Animals Express Emotion?
Dr Filippo Aureli, reader in Animal Behavior and co-director of the Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Paleoecology at LJMU, agrees with the notion that animals can feel emotion. He explains, “My research has shown that emotion is a valid topic for scientific investigation in animals and helps us to understand how animals behave with great flexibility.” Animals respond to their environment much like their human-counterparts. Even though an animal cannot express emotion through language, they express emotions through their actions.
For instance, an animal that is scared is likely to hide or become aggressive. An animal that is happy will show love and affection through various forms, depending on the species and individual animal. A dog, for example, will often wag its tail and lick its owner to show affection. A cat, on the other hand, with kneed – an instinct that relates to its younger days spent with its mother, as well as rub against its person. Generally, when an animal attempts to spend time with us, this can be perceived as affection.
What Can We Learn?
While there is some debate as to whether animals are capable of showing love and affection, the answer seems to be that animals are capable of showing affection and loving us. The method used to show affection depends on the animal, but generally an animal that wants to spend time with its human is a good indicator that it sees the human as something valuable.