Many dogs appear to be happy while they are playing. But scientists disagree on whether this appearance is a sign of true emotion.

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Animal Emotions and Intelligence

In "What the Animals Tell Me," Sonya Fitzpatrick describes numerous psychic experiences with animals. In her anecdotes, she describes animals as surprisingly intelligent and emotionally complex. They're a lot like people in animals' bodies. During her sessions, animals remember events from long past. They experience and vocalize emotions and reflect on their feelings. Other psychics tell similar stories. According to pet psychics, animals are conscious, self-aware and able to think and experience emotions the way humans do.

Many people have seen their pets behave in a way that suggests that they experience emotions. For example, some dogs whimper when their owners leave the house, and some cats seem jealous of other animals. But scientists haven't come to a consensus about whether these are indicators of true emotion. Emotions can be very difficult to define -- philosophers, psychiatrists and medical doctors don't always agree on exactly what they are or how they work in humans. Animals cannot describe what they feel the way people can, so it's even more difficult to study their emotions.

In addition, hormone and neurotransmitter levels can make it appear as though an animal is experiencing emotions. But these chemicals do not necessarily create emotions. For example, in most mammals, hormones like oxytocin typically promote attachment between mothers and their children. Because of this, an attentive mother dog might appear to love her puppies. But, she might not be able to interpret her need to feed, bathe and care for her offspring as love. For this reason, many scientists are reluctant to use animal behavior as proof of emotional capacity.

However, recent research suggests that animals do experience emotions like joy, anger and grief. They also feel pain and experience stress. Neuroscientist Jaak Panskipp has conducted experiments that suggest that animals can feel other emotions as well. According to Panskipp, the periaqueductal gray (PAG), a primitive area of the brain, produces basic emotional effects in all mammals, including humans. These include:

  • Fear
  • Rage
  • Lust
  • Separation distress
  • The drive to play

Panskipp also believes the PAG creates other emotions, like the desire to be nurtured and to care for others [ref].

The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is in the midbrain, one of the more primitive regions of the brain.

In the next section we'll look at how animals deal with emotions.