Asian elephants wrap their trunks around each other in an expression of condolence. "Even rodents, once thought to be unaffected by emotions and devoid of facial expressions, have been found to 'express anguish through narrowed eyes, flattened ears, and swollen cheeks.' They also have facial expressions for pleasure, and they recognize these states in other rats." De Waal believes that a horse's face can be as expressive as a primate.
"In dogs, a key facial expression—the “inner-brow pull”—makes their eyes appear larger. This gives them that sad, puppy-like look that pulls at the heartstrings of humans, sometimes leading to canine adoptions. De Waal also digs at an oft-asked question: Do dogs feel shame when they do something wrong? It reminded me of online videos where you see garbage overturned and a dog slouched down, staring at the floor in a way that viewers interpret as “guilt.” Dogs do understand when they're in trouble but as to feeling guilty? That is still open for debate.
De Waal draws a clear distinction between animal behaviors that connote emotions readable to outside observers and what animals feel.
Emotions and feelings are not the same things and any human who claims to know what an animal is feeling doesn't have science on their side. "Emotions drive behavior and come with physical cues that allow them to be observed and described; feelings are internal subjective states known only to those who possess them." De Waal views elephants as highly empathic, emotional beings—given how they will rush to comfort a fellow elephant in distress, and how they can recognize themselves in a mirror—he acknowledges that some scientists remain skeptical because humans can’t ask elephants (or any animal) about their feelings.
Can animal emotions and feelings teach humans anything about themselves? Mr. de Waal believes the answer is yes. "As de Waal compares human behavior to our closest relatives’, he finds much to observe and report. The human smile, for instance, may be linked to the nervous grin found in other primates. 'I seriously doubt that the smile is our species’s ‘happy’ face, as is often stated in books about human emotions,' he writes. “Its background is much richer, with meanings other than cheeriness.” Instead, a smile could mean nervousness, a desire to please, amusement, or attraction." Additionally, humans often wear plastic or fake smiles that have no meaning at all. A genuine smile uses muscles in both the mouth and the eyes. While a human's fake smile involves only the muscles in the mouth. A good distinction to understand! You won't find any fake emotions with animals. We're as genuine as it gets! “For me,” de Waal writes, “the question has never been whether animals have emotions, but how science could have overlooked them for so long.”
Humans could benefit, de Waal believes by understanding that humans and animals have a great deal in common. Instead of considering themselves so refined and rational, Mr. de Waal suggests, it’s time for humans to squarely face the degree to which they—like other animals—are driven by emotions.
Any human who's ever lived with an animal knows that critters not only have emotions but can sense those of their owner, as well. That's what makes us so lovable! Critters are, for better or worse, the best versions of the humans they share their space with. If a human is kind, their pet will be sweet-natured, as well. The opposite is also true.
Please join me right here tomorrow for a few fun facts about lighthouses. I'm pretty sure you'll not want to miss these! Until we meet again, I wish you