Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The State of Animals

A new book on the fascinating science of animal behavior reveals who animals are

In 2009 I was asked to write on animal emotions for Psychology Today. Some 500 popular, jargon-free essays later, the field of anthrozoology—the study of human-animal relationships—has grown exponentially, as have scientific data showing how smart and emotional nonhuman animals (animals) are.

In my new book, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, I offer a wide variety of these essays, many of which have been updated, that showcase the fascinating cognitive abilities of other animals as well as their empathy, compassion, grief, humor, joy, and love. Dogs hump for a wide variety of reasons and bees get depressed just like we do. For example, Melissa Bateson and her colleagues have shown when honeybees are stressed, they display an increased expectation of bad outcomes. In other words, they become pessimists. When similar behavior is observed in vertebrates it's explained as having an emotional basis. The bees also showed altered levels of neurochemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and octopamine) that are associated with depression. This fascinating study shows that we need to be very careful making claims that invertebrates do not have emotional lives or feelings. In fact, there are marked similarities with vertebrates. We also know that humpback whales protect gray whales from orca attacks, combat dogs and other animals suffer from PTSD, many animals manufacture and use complex tools, and chickens, rats, and mice display empathy.

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This collection of more than 100 essays, organized in eleven sections including Animals and Us, Against Speciesism, Consciousness, Sentience, and Cognition, The Emotional Lives of Animals, The Lives of Captive Creatures, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why: Redecorating Nature, Peaceful Coexistence, and Compassionate Conservation, and Rewilding Our Hearts, is both an updated sequel to my popular book The Emotional Lives of Animals and a call to begin the important work of “rewilding” ourselves and changing the way we treat other animals. Existing data are compelling and demand we pay attention to what we know about other animals and use this information on their behalf. We don't own them, they are not property or objects, and we suffer the indignities to which we subject them by the choices we make in a wide variety of venues. By paying careful attention to the ways in which other animals live their lives, we can also learn a lot about ourselves. 

We now know an amazing amount about the lives of other animals from detailed scholarly essays published in highly prestigious peer reviewed professional journals and from stories shared by people who live with a wide variety of animals, and this information not only reveals who they really are—highly intelligent, emotional, and moral beings—but also what we must do to live respectfully in peaceful coexistence with them. Just like us, other animals want and need to live in peace and safety, absent pain and suffering. It isn't asking too much of us to do all we can to seamlessly incorporate them into our human dominated world in ways that don't cause pain and suffering.

The state of the animals is deeply rich and incredibly inspiring

We should joyfully celebrate the opportunity to share our world with a wide variety of fascinating individuals of many different remarkable and improbable species. The state of the animals is deeply rich and incredibly inspiring and I look forward to future discoveries about the cognitive, emotional, and moral lives of these other beings. It's wonderful that so many people around the world really do care about other animals and are working tirelessly and selflessly to make their lives the very best they can be. 

Note: I wonder if this book will also be banned in Texas.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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