What can animals tell us about emotions?

To a neuroscientist like me, the inner function of our emotional brain seems as mysterious as the inner function of a black hole must have seemed to an astrophysicist like my late father. Yet everyone seems to think they understand emotions because, unlike black holes, we experience them in our everyday lives. This disruption between what we actually know and what we think we know about emotions has led to considerable confusion and heated debate.

Some prominent brain researchers have argued that “emotions” are something that can only be studied in humans and not in animals. To those of us who are pet owners, this attitude seems absurd. Is it not clear that our dogs and cats, including my cat, have emotions? Maybe, but intuition is not enough. We have to look for evidence, because animals are not small people in furry costumes, and we can be fooled.

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