Mirjam Guesgen

Freelance Science Writer

I am a freelance science writer currently based in Toronto, Canada, with a particular interest in animal welfare.

I love communicating complex, scientific ideas in an engaging, balanced, thought-out and informative way.

Animal feelings part 2: Inside and Out

In the last couple of blog posts, I started talking about how we find out what animals are feeling. We looked at what emotions are and whether animals have the capacity to experience them

The next step on our journey into animal emotion, would be to come up with a generalised framework for finding out what animals are feeling. Backtrack a second though. How would we do this for humans? Emotions aren’t a physical thing that we can directly measure (in contrast to, say, the length of a limb). We can, however, gain access to someone’s mental state by simply asking them how they’re feeling.

But what about non-verbal humans or animals? Therein lies the challenge. Instead of trying to access their mental state, we need to look at the outward manifestations of that mental state. In other words, look at the changes to physiology, behaviour, the face, ears or body language that co-inside with an emotion. We can then conclude the animal is feeling a particular emotion because we can correlate these changes with our own experience (e.g. when I’m in a threatening situation I feel scared and my heart pounds and I sweat, therefore if an animal has a similar reaction in a similar situation we can assume they are also scared).

The question then becomes: “what measure is the best to find out what animals are feeling?”. I try to answer this question here and here.