Animal Instincts: Rudimentary or Advanced ?
Scientifically, emotions may be described as subjective, conscious experiences characterized primarily by psycho-physiological expressions, biological reactions, & mental states. Emotions observed in animals are of two types Primary & Secondary. First response of an animal to a stimuli or situation is primary emotion, e.g., animal feels fear to any threat. Emotions that appear after primary emotions are secondary. The condition where the fear of a threat turns to anger that fuels the body for fight is secondary emotion. Higher brain centres in the cerebral cortex are usually associated with the control of these emotions.
Darwin's evolutionary theory supported that all mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures such as the amygdale (grey matter mass) & neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings. He promoted that the differences among species are differences in degree rather than kind (there are shades of gray among different species, not stark black & white differences), arguing strongly for the presence of animal emotions, empathy, & moral behavior. Charles Darwin was among the first scientists to write about the existence & nature of emotions in animals. His observational & sometimes anecdotal approach has developed into a more robust, hypothesis-driven, scientific approach. He made a detailed study & expressed the correlation in his book 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man & Animals'. He also projected emotional expression as an outward communication of an inner state.
Animals do respond to pain, anger, joy, comfort, hunger & other environmental stimuli & express their emotional activity individually. It has been seen in Great Apes that their mothers have strong bonds of attachment & when a baby chimpanzee or gorilla dies, the mother will not uncommonly carry the body around for several days which makes them candidates for being able to experienceempathy & theory of mind. Chimpanzees & gorilla on the other hand have been known for assertion of mournful behaviour & expression of vocalisations over the death of companion.
A study conducted on horses by Bernda in 2013 has shown that horses react differently to various categories of human photographs shown. There reaction & response have been dissimilar when photographs of positive (happy & negative (sad) were shown. It was observed that horses looked more with their left eye towards angry & sad photographs perceiving negative stimuli & their heart rates also show increase in comparison to positive images.
Unfolding an episode which happened in Colorado where five magpies (intelligent family of birds) were occupying a roadside. When approached it was seen one magpie was hit by a vehicle & was lying dead & the other magpies were standing around him. One approached the corpse & gently pecked it, while another magpie followed the same. Suddenly one more magpie flew off & bought some grass & left it by corpse then all the magpie stood vigil for few moments & flew away. This evidences to represent an expression of empathy by birds.
Debating Dogs, they experience sadness when a family member passes away by displaying signs of distress: loss of appetite, fear, depression, sleeping too much or too little, & anxiety. Ears of angry dogs are typically pinned back, the fur along their back may stand up & one may be able to see the whites of their eyes. Non-social behaviour such as freezing in response to a touch or look followed by direct intense eye contact back from the dog is another clear sign that he is vexed. Things such as bared teeth, raised hackles, a lowered head, or ears lying flat against the head are signs that a dog is uncomfortable. There are reports that a dogs do have shown an emotional expression of shame at times with signs of the lowered head, ears swept back, the hunched posture, & a doleful gaze & when in joy & under the expectation of any great pleasure, dogs bound & jump about in an extravagant manner, & bark.
Drakes et.al 2011 in his Study on cats have documented that the cats can learn to manipulate their owners through vocalizations that are similar to the cries of human babies. Some cats learn to add apurr to the vocalization, which makes it less harmonious & more tuneless to humans, & therefore harder to ignore. The probability of vocalisation increases from cat that elicits a positive response from a human in future.
It is now widely accepted that animals can feel pain and suffering, and methods to assess pain and suffering have been developed. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions are considered as adaptive programs designed through repeated encounters that are intended to either direct other physiological programs or to directly solve adaptive problems faced by a species over time.
Author is Veterinary Assistant Surgeon.