Can animals feel self-doubt and other emotions like us?



Can animal have suicidal thoughts, can they have self doubt, can animals understand time

Like these more complicated emotions

In: Biology

Yes is the short answer.

The longer answer is that we know from scientific experiments that various animals feel various emotions. Most of us know it intuitively from interacting with a pet.

What’s far more difficult to know is the range of emotions any one species experiences, and whether they experience those emotions in the same way as a human.

Self reflection is a much harder thing to test for, and I don’t know the science behind that in animals – maybe someone smarter will answer.

As to suicide, we do see suicide in animals, but the only version of it of which I am aware is parasite driven (it’s super creepy too). Otherwise my understanding is that survival is a dominant instinct in all animals.

Edit: forgot to mention time – yes, animals experience and understand time, but that experience varies dramatically across species. Some have intelligence that demonstrates an understanding of time – delayed gratification for instance. Some display an understanding of “object permanence”, that something there in the past still exists even if they can’t see it right now. Many display time-related instincts like feeding, sleeping, mating, and migrating.

None of them, however, are looking at a clock the same way you and I do.

They did experiment on depression in monkeys.

By removing a child from its mother and building a “false mother” with spikes so the child feels rejected. Awful stuff.

Magpies express grief when someone dies as do elephants and many other animals.

But “animals” is a pretty wide category to be honest! And without being inside their head it’s usually difficult to say, but they sure do express a wide range of emotions!

Yes but different. You have to remember that emotions are evolutionary adaptations, no different than evolving claws, horns, lungs etc.

Humans are a social species, it’s really important for us to be able to emote in order to interact and understand one another to facilitate a smooth group dynamic. Shame and embarrassment, for instance, help us navigate the boundaries of a social group. If we do something that our group responds poorly to, the feeling of shame helps us not repeat that behaviour.

A solitary species has little use for shame. Self doubt on the other hand can prevent us from engaging in a potentially harmful course of action without being certain of a positive outcome. Self doubt is a valid emotion whether you are a solitary species or a social one.

Under normal conditions self doubt occurs in new situations where more information is warranted before committing to a course of action, many animals display that behaviour. Just put them in front of a mirror for instance and you can see many animals struggle with how to respond.

Self doubt can also be caused in animals by punishing them for perfectly healthy behaviours. Just look at the way a beaten dog struggles to respond in a healthy manner to seemingly positive events like being offered treats by a stranger. It’s no longer certain that a positive really is a positive.

A big part of the reason we get along so well with dogs (and originally wolves) is that they largely experience the same social and emotional language as us. We’re both used to co-existing with peers in a hierarchical social group where sharing and cooperation is the norm. We understand signals for affection, help, sharing but also understand when a peer tells us to back off and give them some space and we mutually emote those things in ways we actually pick up on.

Obviously there’s vast differences separating us from dogs and wolves but we have enough common ground to co-exist with ease compared to many other animals.

The smarter animals have been known to experience self doubt, depression, and ptsd. (Dog or higher), but I haven’t known them to have suicidal thoughts.

This may be due to them not having the mental capacity to ask complex questions or think long term, especially not after they’re dead. We once asked a gorilla where they go when they die, and her response was “comfortable hole” referring to burial.