Do animals share our emotions?

Frans de Waal, the author of Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves, argued that animals share the same emotions as human beings.

The Emory University professor analysed laughter and love as emotions that are equally identifiable in animals and people. Waal explained that bonding is a fundamental experience for all species, and crucially, he distinguished emotions from feelings.

He said, “Feelings are a different category, for me, from emotions. Feelings are inaccessible in animals; they’re private states. And even in humans, you can tell me that you’re sad, you can tell me that you’re happy, but I cannot feel your feelings.”

He provided numerous videos and cited several examples, reaffirming the emotional similarity between humans and animals.

“You have to assume similar physiological mechanisms [between animals, humans and animals], that’s the only reasonable thing to do. We cannot go on, which we have done for 100 years, inventing new terminology for animals and calling it something else, it’s the same principle.”

“There are no emotions that we have that you don’t find in other species. In our case, they might be a bit more sophisticated on occasion, but we don’t have a fundamentally different emotional life.”  

If you are interested in Science, also see Michael J Benton talk about dinosaurs at 4 pm, 29 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by Sam Hardwick.