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Do Animals Have Feelings?

What are emotions? Scientifically speaking, Emotions can be defined as a conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body. In layman terms, emotions are what we feel. Us humans are the most evolved and advanced beings on the planet. Emotions like joy, grief, anger, jealousy, love, are all that we experience on a day to day basis. And we know this because we can express ourselves. What about other animals though? Do they have emotions? Do they feel like we do?

Lately, scientists have begun to believe that animals feel emotions just like us humans do and these feelings play a vital role in their lives. Charles Darwin was the first person to describe emotions in humans in the year 1872. He described emotions as stereotyped facial expressions and body postures in various contexts. He observed the expression of emotions not only by humans but also by a few other species of animals like cats, dogs, etc. He found similarities in expressions between humans and non-humans to support his theory further. Darwin’s work was criticized for over a century because scientists thought it was impossible to study animal expressions.

In recent times, studies indicate that in humans, emotions are essential to rational decision-making, learning, perception, and a few other things. If this is the case for human beings then why wouldn’t the same apply to animals? When humans experience emotions, their body responds in a certain psychological, physiological or behavioral manner. Similarly, animals exhibit physiological responses like increased heartbeats and the release of hormones in the body. And behavioral responses like aggressiveness, trying to escape from a dangerous situation, etc. But the question of whether animals actually feel emotions still remain debatable since it is impossible to get into an animal’s mind to know their inner thoughts and dilemmas.

We usually recognize emotional responses in animals such as primates very easily since they are so very similar to ours and can be read relatively easily. Whereas, animals like fish, dogs and other creatures are complex for us to understand since they do not share many similarities with us.

Some studies say animals become expressive and emotionally responsive when they co-habitat with humans. The studies also say animal emotions have evolved over time due to social necessities which helps them fit into their environment. Whereas, animals raised by themselves or in the wild do not learn all the social etiquettes that are required to get along with others and do not react very well when forced to socialize in the latter part of their lives. But to contradict this theory there are also wild animals that exhibit what can be categorized as emotions. For example, elephants are known to be extremely kind and helpful to animals that are in distress, they are also known to be extremely sad when they lose their loved ones. They are also able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Studies can at times be informative and inconclusive at the same. All these studies will be indecisive for now and a few people will always be skeptical since we cannot ask animals about their feelings and they cannot report them to us.

Animal emotions is a vast and complicated area. But with time, people are slowly moving towards the opinion that yes, animals do have emotions just like human beings. A few skeptics still remain, and debate over this topic will continue for a long time. But in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of studies being conducted to study emotions in animals and new information has been coming to light all the time. Every passing day, scientists around the globe are gathering evidence to prove that, just like humans, animals feel emotions too!

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Pooja Advani

Pet Industry Expert, Canine Behaviourist, Consultation & Training

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