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Can we really ever know if animals are happy?

The best way to learn about animal emotions is through behavior. And we may never know what it’s like to be in another animals hooves, paws, or claws — but maybe we were never meant to.

ANNA BROOKS: ‘In his paper “What is it like to be a bat?”, philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote that even if we spent our days “hanging upside-down by one’s feet in an attic,” it’s impossible know how a bat feels… But just because we may not know how an animal feels, doesn’t mean they don’t feel something. Dolphins, cows, chimpanzees, dogs, and even squirrels have similar emotional processing centers in the brain as humans, so at the very least, they would experience basic emotions like fear, anger, grief and joy. One group of scientists was so sure of this, they signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in 2012, acknowledging that all mammals and birds (and some invertebrates, like octopuses) are conscious creatures…

But some reject the concept of animal emotions altogether, like behaviorist B.F. Skinner. He argued even human feelings were a farce, and emotions in any species are “fictional causes to which we commonly attribute behavior.” John Watson, another well-known behaviorist, claimed these reactive mental states were simply physical responses to stimuli. The naysayers aggravate Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, who says animals are undeniably deep, emotional creatures—just like people. “The real question is why these emotions have evolved, not if they’ve evolved,” he says. “One thing we have direct access to in both humans and non-humans is behavior. We can use it as a good measure of what animals are feeling”…

Take New York City’s Public Enemy No. 1: the rat. Unlike a golden retriever puppy or a penguin reunion, you don’t often hear, “Look how happy those rats look!” But scientists have shown rats exude just as much “happiness,” if not more, than other mammals. In the ‘90s, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp made a surprising discovery: rats loved being tickled. When rats play, they emit high frequency chirps undetectable by the human ear. Using special equipment to isolate the sounds, Panksepp discovered when he tickled the rats, their feverish chirps were akin to giggling… Janine Brown, head of the endocrinology lab at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute… says the best way to learn about animal emotions is through behavior. And we may never know what it’s like to be in another animals hooves, paws, or claws — but maybe we were never meant to’. SOURCE…

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