Animals cry, laugh, and get outraged over injustice—just like us. The emotional world of the animals around us is definitely something worth looking into.
Delving into the emotional depths of non-human animals
There was a time when most people thought that animals are just that—animals. Animals in the sense that they are not like us, the superior life form. However, the idea that we too are animals, albeit perhaps more advanced than other animals, became more widely accepted. It eventually also came to light that various animals experience various emotions and have unexpected emotional responses to things that we never expected them to think twice about.
Animals are more like us than we may think, no matter how some may refuse to accept that animals could ever even be close to our level. Elephants cry, rats laugh, and chimps have a sense of fairness. Humans lead rich emotional lives, and evidence is mounting that animals may live their lives in a similar way as well.
The human limbic system [Image via Shutterstock]
Not every emotion is the same. Some, like joy or sadness, are simpler. Others, like jealousy or empathy, are more complex. Some may think that if non-human animals are capable of emotions, they’re probably capable of the simpler ones. However, animals have exhibited behaviors that show how they can experience a remarkable range of emotions.
There’s a treasure trove of research attesting that animal sentience is in fact real. Using human brains as a reference point, scientists have made significant findings on how non-human animal brains are capable of experiencing emotions.
Human brains have the limbic system, the part of our brain where our emotions originate. We have relatively large limbic systems, a fact that has led scientists to make the correlation between the size of the limbic system and the ability to feel a range of emotions. If the brain of a certain animal has a smaller limbic system than ours, for example, we assume that the animal probably doesn’t feel the same range of emotions that we do. However, our limbic system isn’t the largest one in the world. Even so, when a non-human animal has a larger limbic system, we don’t assume that it can feel emotions that we ourselves don’t feel.
The brains of marine mammals are fascinating.
Some marine mammals such as whales and dolphins actually have limbic systems four times larger than ours. Marine mammals species such as humpback whales, orcas, sperm whales, beluga whales, fin whales, bottlenose dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins have also turned out to possess spindle cells, which scientists thought were unique to humans. These spindle cells are what enable us to make quick decisions in social settings. The question now is whether or not those marine mammals evolved the same structure for the same purpose as ours.
Elephants have been found to cry when they’re emotionally or physically hurt, sheep can recognize their friends even after years of separation, capuchin monkeys can tell when they’re not receiving their fair share, macaque groups develop distinct cultures, and rats laugh when they’re tickled. Though non-human animals experience a more limited range of emotions (as far as we know, anyway), they’re a lot more like us than we may think.
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