Laughing dogs and jealous cats?

September 21st, 2017

A public lecture on how we view emotions in animals was held on Thursday 14 September 2017, organised by Museum Boerhaave and the Lorentz Center. With the title ‘Laughing dogs seldom bite?’, it was given by Pim Martens, Professor of Sustainability at Maastricht University, and will examine our attitude to emotions in animals and how these emotions affect us.

Do dogs really look ashamed? Can cats be jealous? Our attitude to the emotions of these animals has changed considerably over time. Scientific evidence for the existence of emotions in animals is stacking up. This will hardly be a surprise for most pet owners: they recognise joy, pleasure and sadness in their pets. And vice versa, they assume that pets recognise their owners’ emotions and adjust their behaviour accordingly. If the owner is sad, the cat or dog will come to comfort them.

In humans, behaviour is guided by emotions. Is this the same in animals? Do they have the same emotions as humans? And can we recognise them? Intense emotional ‘mirroring’ can take place between a pet (or ‘companion animal’) and its owner, including therapeutic interaction. Examples are dolphin therapy for children with autism or Down’s syndrome, and the use of dogs with autistic adults.

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