The Web of Life (122) Emotions


Lower animals are excited by the same emotions as ourselves. Animals manifestly enjoy excitement and suffer from ennui, and many exhibit curiosity. With the lower animals we see the same principle of pleasure derived from contact in association with love. ~ Charles Darwin (The idea that there are ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ animals typifies the inanity of Darwin and his followers.)

Emotion is a loaded word, colloquially confused between feeling, which is reception of stimuli that have an emotive edge, the processed mental state properly called emotion, and behavioral re/action. Emotion is intended herein as between the sandwich of sensation and behavior: an affective aspect of consciousness, letting slide for now that emotions often root below the level of conscious awareness, or are transposed by conscious thought.

Emotion is a psychophysiological phenomenon. Emotions are a subconscious product of the mind which stimulate the system.

Many scientists appear to be uncomfortable about using the term emotion when referring to animals, for fear that they automatically imply anthropomorphic assumptions of human-like subjective experience. ~ English zoologists Elizabeth Paul, Emma Harding, & Michael Mendl

The concern over anthropomorphic projection is stupendously silly, as humans are obviously animals, and it is equally obvious that other animals have emotions. There is no reason whatsoever to think that human emotions are any different than those of other animals. Consistency in behavioral expressions of affection and annoyance, among other emotive states, indicates that animal emotions are selfsame, human or otherwise.

So-called primal emotions are generally considered entirely instinctual, arising early in animal evolution. In aiding self-preservation, fear is the most primal emotion. Rodents that catch a whiff of a predator immediately become fearful. This is typical of many animals.

American physiologist Walter Cannon coined the term fight-or-flight response in 1914: reflexive reaction to a perceived threat. The fight portion is behavior tied to the emotion of anger. Flight is, of course, the aftermath of fear.

Flight-or-fight is reflexive. Prolonged fear of predation wears, even on insects.

Dragonfly larvae sense when fish which prey upon them are nearby. While the dragonfly eggs are normally placed in relative safety, poor placement, with life in constant danger, takes a toll. The stress induced by fear alone may kill them.

In gregarious species, social interactions maintain group cohesion and the associated adaptive values of group living. ~ French ecological zoologist Pierre Broly & Belgian ecological zoologist Jean-Louis Deneubourg

Emotions often have a social context. Animals that live together not only rely upon each for survival; they often share emotional states.

 Pill Bugs

Woodlice are a small isopod crustacean. Terrestrial woodlice are detrivores, helping recycle vegetative nutrients back into the soil. Some – pill bugs – can roll up into a near-perfect sphere as a defense.

Woodlice are gregarious: happily living together. Their emotional states affect one another. A sense of serenity can spread among woodlice, calming a whole community and promoting social cohesion. The same effect has been seen in human groups that have a significant proportion of meditators within. It is not known whether pill bugs meditate but it is possible.


In contrast to primal emotions, secondary emotions are not autonomic. Instead, they are the product of extended mentation.

Regret is an exemplary secondary emotion. Numerous mammals are known to suffer regret. Regret acts as incentive to learning, to improve in similar situations in the future.

The poles of emotion are between pleasure and pain: positive and negative, when viewed from the motivations of attraction (like) or repulsion (dislike). Fear, anger, and sadness simmer under the cloud of suffering, while infatuation, in its many nuanced varieties, invoke pleasurable emotions.

The relative importance of different senses varies considerably among animals, but their import is the same.

Senses are not an end unto themselves. Instead, they serve as a mosaic of input to create mental maps of the immediate environment. It is the adjunct to those mental maps, constructed with the aid of instinct and memory, that influence and create complex emotions.

A diverse range of emotions serve essential biological functions. Hence, all animals must have them, irrespective of physiology. Emotions serve as behavioral fuel: cause for action and reaction. Emotions of every quality are the spark to memory; hence, to learning.

Beyond behavior, emotions are a register of the instant state of being, a seeming sine qua non measure of the quality of existence. The performance of every animal behavior, down to the biological level of homeostasis, has an emotional component. Happy animals do well. Sad ones do not.

Young animals, human or otherwise, show such similar behavior when they are well fed and secure: frisking, gamboling, pirouetting, bouncing somersaulting. They are full of joie de vivre – they are happy.

I have watched chimpanzee children grieve after the death of their mothers: hunched posture, rocking, dull staring eyes, lack of interest in events around them. If human children can suffer from grief, so too can chimpanzee children. Sometimes, in this state of grieving, chimpanzee orphans die. ~ English primatologist Jane Goodall

The coherence behind Nature favors sensory pleasures as rewards for successful behaviors, incentives to stay alive, and to engender reproduction. Evolution has rendered the necessary as promising satisfaction.

With the carrot comes the stick, which can be an even more powerful driver. Fear, and the prospect of pain, provokes animals to action like nothing else.

Negative emotions are more commonly considered shared with other animals, as they are thought more primitive, while more life-affirming emotions are often thought somehow special. This asymmetric assumption is unwarranted.

Whatever differences there are between species in emotional complexes and worldviews owe solely to evolutionary adaptation. As emotions serve as internal guides and checks for behavioral dynamics, a rich variety of emotions is both necessary and inevitable.

Even the emotions that seem the most cognitively sophisticated – such as empathy – are felt in a selfsame manner in all animals. Cooperative sociality requires a certain set of emotions to compel appropriate behaviors. For instance, love – the emotion the provokes kindness – is a common facet of social animal behavior, in peer bonding, mating, and parental care.

From insects to primates, individuals have different dispositions and temperaments which indicate personality. Just as they have personalities, other life besides animals possess emotions.

Evolution naturally favors individuality, to engender a spectrum of behaviors that benefit population survival. As emotions motivate behaviors, their existence may be considered essential.

Individuals in the disparate domains of life are known to react differently and exhibit distinct behaviors when faced with similar circumstances. There is every reason to think that behavioral diversity and the drivers behind it, including emotion, extend beyond the animal kingdom.