Tag: Emotion

Real meaning in a wolf’s howl.

Staying with the theme of communication.

I have often noticed how ideas come along and are then reinforced by other materials and comments.  This struck me (again) as follows. In my post about the fabulous, loving bond between Jeff Guidry and his eagle Freedom one of the comments was from Patrice Ayme, and I quote:

Birds have completely different brains. Still, the smartest birds are more clever than most primates. And many parrots speak (although we have not learned their language yet).

Then going on to add:

Parrot language studies have progressed enough to tell us that there is something huge going on. They apparently use names, as dolphins do.

Certainly Jean would verify the amount of talking that goes on between our two budgerigars here at home!

Mr. Green and Mr. Blu!
Mr. Green and Mr. Blu!

Then in yesterday’s post The knowing of dogs, I referred to research that indicated that empathy between those that we know and trust, (a) can be measured, and (b) that “our minds are partly defined by their intersections with other minds.”  I went on in that post to speculate that maybe dogs ‘reading’ the minds of humans that they know and trust wasn’t so far-fetched.

Then along comes this from ScienceDaily:

Wolves Howl Because They Care: Social Relationship Can Explain Variation in Vocal Production

Aug. 22, 2013 — When a member of the wolf pack leaves the group, the howling by those left behind isn’t a reflection of stress but of the quality of their relationships. So say researchers based on a study of nine wolves from two packs living at Austria’s Wolf Science Center that appears in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on August 22.

The findings shed important light on the degree to which animal vocal production can be considered as voluntary, the researchers say.

“Our results suggest the social relationship can explain more of the variation we see in howling behavior than the emotional state of the wolf,” says Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. “This suggests that wolves, to a certain extent, may be able to use their vocalizations in a flexible way.”

Scientists have known very little about why animals make the sounds that they do. Are they uncontrollable emotional responses? Or do animals have the ability to change those vocalizations based on their own understanding of the social context?

At the Wolf Science Center, human handlers typically take individual wolves out for walks on a leash, one at a time. On those occasions, they knew, the remaining pack mates always howl.

To better understand why, Range and her colleagues measured the wolves’ stress hormone levels. They also collected information on the wolves’ dominance status in the pack and their preferred partners. As they took individual wolves out for long walks, they recorded the reactions of each of their pack mates.

Those observations show that wolves howl more when a wolf they have a better relationship with leaves the group and when that individual is of high social rank. The amount of howling did not correspond to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Our data suggest that howling is not a simple stress response to being separated from close associates but instead may be used more flexibly to maintain contact and perhaps to aid in reuniting with allies,” Range says.

For those that want to read the original research paper then it is available over at Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

Wolf Howling Is Mediated by Relationship Quality Rather Than Underlying Emotional Stress


Francesco MazziniSimon W. TownsendZsófia VirányiFriederike Range

  • Highlights
  • We investigated the influence of social and physiological factors on wolf howling
  • Wolves howl more to keep contact with affiliated partners and with pack leaders
  • Howling is mediated by the social relationship not cortisol level of the howlers
  • This pattern indicates that wolves have some voluntary control of their howling


While considerable research has addressed the function of animal vocalizations, the proximate mechanisms driving call production remain surprisingly unclear. Vocalizations may be driven by emotions and the physiological state evoked by changes in the social-ecological environment [1,2], or animals may have more control over their vocalizations, using them in flexible ways mediated by the animal’s understanding of its surrounding social world [3,4]. While both explanations are plausible and neither excludes the other, to date no study has attempted to experimentally investigate the influence of both emotional and cognitive factors on animal vocal usage. We aimed to disentangle the relative contribution of both mechanisms by examining howling in captive wolves. Using a separation experiment and by measuring cortisol levels, we specifically investigated whether howling is a physiological stress response to group fragmentation [5] and whether it is driven by social factors, particularly relationship quality [6,7]. Results showed that relationship quality between the howler and the leaving individual better predicted howling than did the current physiological state. Our findings shed important light on the degree to which animal vocal production can be considered as voluntary.

So, don’t know about you, but it all seems to be suggesting how little we know about how animals communicate with the world around them.

Feelings, as in the animal variety!

It really is absurd to think that animals don’t have feelings!

Surely, a smiling Sweeny?
Surely, a smiling Sweeny?

Many thousands of animal owners will intuitively know that animals have feelings.  Not only expressed through their behaviour but also through many other subtle signs including facial expressions.  But what about the science behind this?

Back towards the end of May, there was an item on the BBC News website that was headlined: Ape tantrums: Chimps and bonobos emotional about choice. It caught my eye.

Ape tantrums: Chimps and bonobos emotional about choice

Like many humans, chimpanzees and bonobos react quite emotionally when they take risks that fail to pay off.

This is according to researchers from Duke University in the US, who developed decision-making games that the apes played to earn edible treats.

Some animals that lost the game – receiving a bland piece of cucumber rather than a preferred piece of banana – reacted with what looked like the ape equivalent of a tantrum.

The findings are published in Plos One.

It was then only a matter of a couple of ‘mouse clicks‘ to go to that Plos One publication of the findings.

Chimpanzees and Bonobos Exhibit Emotional Responses to Decision Outcomes


The interface between cognition, emotion, and motivation is thought to be of central importance in understanding complex cognitive functions such as decision-making and executive control in humans. Although nonhuman apes have complex repertoires of emotional expression, little is known about the role of affective processes in ape decision-making. To illuminate the evolutionary origins of human-like patterns of choice, we investigated decision-making in humans’ closest phylogenetic relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). In two studies, we examined these species’ temporal and risk preferences, and assessed whether apes show emotional and motivational responses in decision-making contexts. We find that (1) chimpanzees are more patient and more risk-prone than are bonobos, (2) both species exhibit affective and motivational responses following the outcomes of their decisions, and (3) some emotional and motivational responses map onto species-level and individual-differences in decision-making. These results indicate that apes do exhibit emotional responses to decision-making, like humans. We explore the hypothesis that affective and motivational biases may underlie the psychological mechanisms supporting value-based preferences in these species.


Wonderfully, just a short time later I found on Psychology Today an article about the emotions felt by dogs.  It was written by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., who is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia.  (As an aside, a quick search revealed that Prof. Coren was mentioned in a blog post back in October, 2011 in this place: The power of joy.)

So imagine my pleasure and delight at receiving written permission from the Professor to republish his article in full.  So without further ado, here it is.


Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?

Dogs have the same emotions as a human 2 year-old child.

Published on March 14, 2013 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner

Since most of us routinely read emotions in our dogs (wagging tail means happy, cringing means afraid and so forth) it may be difficult to believe that the existence of real emotions in dogs was, and in some places still is, a point of scientific controversy. In the distant past it was presumed that dogs had very rich mental lives with feelings much like those of humans. However with the rise of science things began to change. We learned enough about the principles of physics and mechanics, so that we could build complex machines, and began to notice that living things (both people and animals) were also based upon by systems governed by mechanical rules and chemical processes. In the face of such discoveries, religions stepped in to suggest that there must be more to human beings than simply mechanical and chemical events. Church scholars insisted that people have souls, and the evidence they gave for this was the fact that humans have consciousness and feelings. Animals might have the same mechanical systems, but they did not have a divine spark, and therefore they do not have the ability to experience true feelings.

Since most research at the time was church sponsored it is not surprising that prominent scholars, such as the French philosopher and scientist René Descartes adopted this viewpoint. In a highly influential set of analyses, Descartes suggested that animals like dogs were simply some kind of machine. He would thus describe my Beagle, Darby, as simply being a dog-shaped chassis, filled with the biological equivalent of gears and pulleys. Although this machine doesn’t have consciousness and emotions it can still be programmed to do certain things.

In recent times science has progressed a long way beyond Descartes and we now understand that dogs have all of the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. Dogs also have the same hormones and undergo the same chemical changes that humans do during emotional states. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin, which, in humans, is involved with feeling love and affection for others. With the same neurology and chemistry that people have, it seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions that are similar to ours. However it is important to not go overboard and immediately assume that the emotional ranges of dogs and humans are the same.

To understand what dogs feel we must turn to research which was done to explore the emotions of humans. Not all people have the full range of all possible emotions. In fact at some points in your life you did not have the full complement of emotions that you feel and express today. Research shows that infants and very young children have a more limited range of emotions, but over time the child’s emotions begin to differentiate and they come to be able to experience different and more complex emotional states.

This data is important to our understanding of the emotional lives of dogs because researchers have come to believe that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human who is two to two-and-a-half years old. This conclusion holds for most mental abilities — including emotions. Thus we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Like a young child, dogs will clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than we find in adults.

I’ve illustrated this in the accompanying illustration. At birth a human infant only has an emotion that we might call excitement. This indicates how aroused he is, ranging from very calm up to a state of frenzy. Within the first weeks of life the excitement state comes to take on a positive or a negative flavor, so we can now detect the general emotions of contentment and distress. In the next couple of months disgust, fear, and anger, become detectable in the infant. Joy often does not appear until the infant is nearly six months of age and it is followed by the emergence of shyness or suspicion. True affection (the sort that it makes sense to use the label “love” for) does not fully emerge until nine or ten months of age.


The complex social emotions, those which have elements that must be learned, don’t appear until late. Shame and pride take more than three years to appear, while guilt appears around six months after these. A child must be nearly four years of age before it feels contempt.

This developmental sequence is the golden key to understanding the emotions of dogs. Dogs go through their developmental stages much more quickly than humans do, and have all of the emotional range that they will ever achieve by the time they are four to six months of age (depending on the rate of maturing in their breed). However, we know that the assortment of emotions available to the dog will not exceed that which is available to a human who is two to two-and-a-half years old. This means that a dog will have all of the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust and even love. However based on current research it seems likely that your dog will not have those more complex emotions like guilt, pride and shame.

Now many people might argue that they have seen evidence which indicates that their dog is capable of experiencing guilt. The usual situation is where you come home and your dog starts slinking around and showing discomfort, and you then find that he or she has left a smelly brown deposit on your kitchen floor. It is natural to conclude that the dog was acting in a way that shows that it is feeling  guilty about its transgression. However this is not guilt, but simply the more basic emotion of fear. The dog has learned that when you appear and his droppings are visible on the floor, bad things happen to him. What you see is his fear of punishment—he will never feel guilt.

So what does this mean for those of us who live with, and interact with dogs? The good news is that you can feel free to dress your dog in that silly costume for a party. He will not feel shame, regardless how ridiculous he looks. He will also not feel pride at winning a prize at a dog show or an obedience competition. However your dog can still feel love for you, and contentment when you are around, and aren’t these the emotions we truly value?

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark; Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission


NB: Do make a bookmark of Canine Corner.

So going to return to that BBC News item.  I broke off after that reference to the findings being published in Plos One.  This is how the BBC item continued:

The researchers worked with 23 chimps and 15 bonobos in two ape sanctuaries in the Republic of Congo.

“The animals were all [rescued] orphans of the bushmeat trade,” explained lead researcher Alexandra Rosati, now at Yale University.

“They’re sort of in semi-captivity, but it’s possible to play games with them.

“It’s as close as we can come to wild animals without actually being in the wild.”

Dr Rosati, who studies problem-solving in apes in order to examine the origins of human behaviour, designed two games.

In the first, the animals could choose between receiving a relatively small food reward immediately, or receiving a larger reward but having to wait for it.

The second game involved choosing between a “safe” and a “risky” option. The safe option was six peanuts hidden under a bowl. But a second bowl concealed either a slice of cucumber or a highly favoured portion of banana.

Many of the apes – both bonobos and chimps – became emotional when they had to wait or took a gamble that did not pay off.

The researchers recorded some very tantrum-like responses: vocalisations including “pout moans” and “screams”, as well as anxious scratching and banging on the bars of the enclosure.

“Some of the reactions look similar to a kid [shouting] ‘no, I wanted it!’,” said Dr Rosati.

Emotional decisions

The results, Dr Rosati explained, suggest that the emotional component of decision-making – feelings of frustration and regret that are so fundamental to our own decisions – are intrinsic to ape society and are not uniquely human.

Emotions may have shaped the way great apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, live.
Emotions may have shaped the way great apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, live.

The researchers also found differences in the way the two species responded to the games; chimps were more willing to take risks, and also more patient than bonobos.

This could suggest that the apes’ capacity for emotion may have helped shape the way they live.

“These differences might be reflected in differences in how the apes choose to forage in the wild,” said Dr Rosati.

“This might be why chimpanzees are more likely to engage in risky strategies like hunting, in that you could spend all day pursuing a monkey, but end up with nothing.

Overall, she said that the results suggested that decision-making in apes involved moods and motivations similar to our own.

OK, better let the dogs outside now – I’m on the receiving end of that look!

What is this thing called love?

The discovery of love.


Through the wonderful world of web connections, I came to this topic by first reading Jeremy Nathan Mark’s blog The Sand County. Highly recommended.

Jeremy had written a post under the intriguing title of Blogging as Virtual Love-Making, And the Science Behind It.  Blogging; Love-Making; have I really just read those words!  In fact, Jeremy had reposted an article written by Deborah J. on her blog Living on the Edge of the Wild; another great find out there in this virtual world.  So with Deborah’s kind permission here it is reposted on Learning from Dogs.


Blogging as Virtual Love-Making, And the Science Behind It

dj1Often when I leave comments on a blog post that moved me, I write “I love this post” or “I love the way you do [this]” or “I love that quotation.” Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m overusing the word “love”.

Am I really feeling this strong emotional attachment, or am I just being lazy, unwilling to take the time to precisely articulate what strikes me about a particular piece?

After reading a recent article in The Atlantic  on the science behind love, I’m inclined to believe that, more often than not, I use the word “love” because that’s what I’m actually feeling– a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.”   That’s how Barbara Fredrickson defines love in her new book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do.

In The Atlantic article “There’s No Such Thing as Everlasting Love (According to Science), author Emily Esfahani Smith writes:

Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.

Rather, it is what she calls a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in “It’s a Wonderful World” when he sang, “I see friends shaking hands, sayin ’how do you do?’ / They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.”

PenguinsSo when I say I “love” Louis Armstrong’s song, now I know why—because I feel such a strong positive connection to what he’s saying, as well as with how he says it, and the music he says it with, that I experience a triple love-whammy!

What I feel when reading things by fellow bloggers, or see the images they’ve created, is similar—a deeply-felt resonating connection, often on several levels.

Smith writes:

When you experience love, your brain mirrors the person’s you are connecting with in a special way,” and then she goes on to explain how “[t]he mutual understanding and shared emotions” between a story-teller and a listener “generated a micro-moment of love, which ‘is a single act, performed by two brains,’ as Fredrickson writes in her book.

Flower in Vase Pa-ta San-JenThis can happen between a writer and reader as well, or between an artist and viewer. In his book “Tao and Creativity” Chang Chung-yuan describes this connection between poet and reader as a “spiritual rhythm.”  It is the means by which the reader participates in the inner experience of the poet. He writes:

In other words, the reader is carried into the rhythmic flux and is brought to the depth of original indeterminacy from which the poetic pattern emerges.  The reader is directly confronted with the objective reality which the poet originally faced. The subjectivity of the reader and the objective reality of the poem interfuse . . . .

This is very interesting because Fredrickson discovers a similar phenomenon when she compares the brainwaves of a storyteller and listeners. Smith describes this in her article:

What they found was remarkable. In some cases, the brain patterns of the listener mirrored those of the storyteller after a short time gap. The listener needed time to process the story after all. In other cases, the brain activity was almost perfectly synchronized; there was no time lag at all between the speaker and the listener. But in some rare cases, if the listener was particularly tuned in to the story—if he was hanging on to every word of the story and really got it—his brain activity actually anticipated the story-teller’s in some cortical areas.

The mutual understanding and shared emotions, especially in that third category of listener, generated a micro-moment of love, which ‘is a single act, performed by two brains,’ as Fredrickson writes in her book.

Big Sur and Mothers Day picnic 111Fredrickson also discovered that the capacity to experience these daily love connections in our lives can be increased through simple loving-kindness meditations, where, as Smith describes, “you sit in silence for a period of time and cultivate feelings of tenderness, warmth, and compassion for another person by repeating a series of phrases to yourself wishing them love, peace, strength, and general well-being.”

“Fredrickson likes to call love a nutrient,” Smith writes.  “If you are getting enough of the nutrient, then the health benefits of love can dramatically alter your biochemistry in ways that perpetuate more micro-moments of love in your life, and which ultimately contribute to your health, well-being, and longevity.”

public domain beeSo remember, fellow readers, as you go meandering from one blog site to another like busy little bees, making those “micro-moment” connections with people whose work you admire, that you are engaged in a kind of virtual love-making.  You are distributing a pollen-like “nutrient” that nurtures others, as well as yourself.

As Louis says, “what a wonderful world” we live in!


Deborah concludes with Louis Armstrong singing ‘What a Wonderful World’.

However, for me the song that really resonates with this fascinating article is Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of What Is This Thing Called Love.  Take it away Ella.

A big thank you to Jeremy and Deborah.  Finally, to all those that enjoyed (loved?) this post, do go and read The Atlantic article in full; it’s fascinating.

Being in love

Science explains what our hearts feel

Love for all!

Yesterday, I posted an article based on a lecture given by Dr Helen Fisher presented to the TED Conference in 2006.  It included some fascinating evidence about the nature of love and why it is such a powerful human emotion.

Then in 2008, Dr Fisher gave a second lecture, again at the TED Conference, that continued to reveal more amazing findings about how the brain functions when in love.  As the presentation summary says:

Why do we crave love so much, even to the point that we would die for it? To learn more about our very real, very physical need for romantic love, Helen Fisher and her research team took MRIs of people in love — and people who had just been dumped.

Included in the lecture is something that I had wondered about and was delighted to see confirmed – animals fall in love as well.  Here’s the extract from that part of the presentation (min:sec 50:50):

I would also like to tell the world that animals love. There’s not an animal on this planet that will copulate with anything that comes along. Too old, too young, too scruffy, too stupid, and they won’t do it. Unless you’re stuck in a laboratory cage –and you know, if you spend your entire life in a little box,you’re not going to be as picky about who you have sex with –but I’ve looked in a hundred species,and everywhere in the wild, animals have favorites.

As a matter of fact ethologists know this. There’s over eight words for what they call animal favoritism:  selective proceptivity, mate choice, female choice, sexual choice. And indeed, there are three academic articlesin which they’ve looked at this attraction, which may only last for a second, but it’s a definite attraction, and either this same brain region, this reward system, or the chemicals of that reward system are involved. In fact, I think animal attraction can be instant — you can see an elephant instantly go for another elephant. And I think that this is really the origins of what you and I call, “love at first sight.”

Do watch it.

And a quote to conclude this post.

True happiness and a fullness of joy can be found only in the tender and intimate relationships of the family. However earnestly we may seek success and happiness outside the home through work, leisure activities, or large bank accounts, we will never be fully satisfied emotionally until we develop deep and loving relationships.
~ by James J. Jones Ph.D. ~

By Paul Handover