June 16, 2007

Do Animals Feel?

Interesting article at New Scientist about whether or not animals have emotions. Marc Bekoff, professor of biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, writes about animals and their possible feelings. He gives examples of several emotions he claims to have seen / heard animals feeling, such as empathy, grief, gratitude, and love.

Those of us who share our lives with animals would surely be able to come up with our own examples; Emma seems to be grateful when I clean her litterbox, and it is conceivable that Boomer stayed alive with a huge tumor as long as he did out of love for me. But I also hear Ray Coppinger in my head scoffing at this notion.

Following his examples of animal emotions, Bekoff does an nice job of arguing the case for and against animal emotions.

"... it is bad biology to argue that humans are the only emotional beings. Emotions serve as a 'social glue' to bond individuals with one another and to catalyse and regulate their social encounters.
"A decade ago, neurobiologists identified specific nerve cells that are associated with empathy - the bedrock of social emotions. These so-called mirror neurons have been identified in non-human primates, and it is likely that they exist in humans and other mammals, and perhaps even in birds."

... transition discourse on anthropomorphising ...
"... careful anthropomorphism is not a way of foisting human attributes onto animals, but rather a means of identifying commonalities and then using human language to communicate what we observe."

"if unchecked, [anthropomorphism] leads to a complete absence of scientific rigour in the way we look at animals. Using anecdotes as data only makes matters worse, because this allows anyone to speculate on what a given animal is experiencing, without any standard for what counts as evidence."

Bekoff concludes by urging for scientific, evidence-based analysis of what it's like to be a cat, dog, bird, horse, or your animal of choice. A little anthropomorphism is good; too much is unscientifc.

Can't wait to read more about animal emotions!

For More Info
* Bekoff, Marc. "Are You Feeling What I'm Feeling?" New Scientist, 194: May 26, 2007, pp. 42-47. Full-text available in LexisNexis & possible on ScienceDirect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

<sarcasm>God forbid we not be scientific...</sarcasm>