‘Critters Have Feelings’

Sydney Holder

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An inquiry that has been tossed among humans for quite some time is the debate on whether animals, such as man’s best friend, the dog, have feelings like us, humans.  There have been multiple studies in the past, however, some recent discoveries might have unearthed the truth about our beloved pets.  

Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, decided to train his own dog, to sit and stay in an MRI, states National Geographic’s website.  According to the article, Berns received positive data, supporting that dogs can feel emotions such as, anticipation.

“The caudate nucleus is active when an individual is in a state of anticipation—something happens and they have to decide what to do with that information. It’s particularly strong when that information is in positive domains. You see something, you want to approach it, maybe consume it.  When we see this structure active in dogs, we can interpret that they are experiencing something important to them and something they like. This is completely analogous to what happens in human brains under the same conditions.”  states Berns in Simon Worrall’s article on National Geographic.  

One of the most stereotypical questions about pet’s feelings, is whether they truly love their owners or if they just want to be fed.  Bern’s research on volunteer dogs in his community states that their pets actually responded much more to their owners praising them, than getting rewarded with treats.

In the experiment, we showed them an object that signaled they would get food, then another one signaling that their owner would pop into view and say, “Good girl!” There were a handful of dogs that preferred praise over food. There were also a couple of dogs at the other end of the spectrum. For them it really was all about the food. But the vast majority of dogs had equal responses to both food and praise,” reads National Geographic’s article.

Berns then decided to take his research further, and started looking into the brains of other mammals such as dolphins and sea lions, states the National Geographic article.

Berns told National Geographic that it was much more difficult to research these animals because they couldn’t be trained to stay in an MRI.  Berns stated that they had to take brain matter from deceased animals and study those pieces compared to humans and other animals, such as dogs.  

According to the article, of the more fascinating discoveries came from sea lions, and their apparent ability to follow rhythms or their ability to dance.  This ability sea lions have could lead to comprehensible emotions on their part.  

“Sea lions aren’t very vocally flexible. They can bark and do a few things like dogs. But one sea lion in California was able to learn to follow rhythm. Not just something like a metronome, but actual music rhythms.  It’s similar to tap dancing, in the sense that when humans dance to music there’s a very direct linkage between the sounds we hear and our motor systems. The music entrains our feet and hands to move in that rhythm.  That ability was thought to be learned through language because language itself is rhythmic. But by seeing this ability in animals like sea lions, which don’t have language, it showed that it’s a much more fundamental trait in animals—and probably evolved long before humans came along,” reads the article.  

The article states that Berns intends to create an organization called the, ‘Brain Ark’, that will contain 3D reconstructions of the brains of megafauna, or large, animals.  

“The idea is to create a digital archive of the brains of these animals before they disappear. By reconstructing their brains, we hope to have a better understanding of what makes a tiger a tiger or a bear a bear, and why certain animals may be more likely to go extinct as their habitats change. This will enable us to focus our attention on which animals we need to help save before they’re gone, assuming people care about that,” stated Berns in the National Geographic Article.  

“Overall, it’s given me greater appreciation for the richness of the interior lives of animals and a realization that they have feelings very much like we do, even though they don’t have words to describe them. They are what I call “non-human persons.” states Berns.

1 Comment

One Response to “‘Critters Have Feelings’”

  1. Daniel Sanders on December 8th, 2017 4:46 pm

    This was really great! Hope to see more!

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‘Critters Have Feelings’