Do Animals Love? – UPDATE February 9, 2012

Jewel tends a cub - Feb 9, 2012Jewel tends a cub - Feb 9, 2012For an hour today, we watched an online discussion of animal love put on by Science Magazine.  What would have been anthropomorphic heresy not that long ago was being discussed in scientific terms, saying humans and animals share the same structures in the limbic system that are important in feeling emotions.  They mentioned other parallels, as well.  One of the leaders was Dr. Diane Witt, leader of the Neural Systems Cluster at the National Science Foundation.  She works on how oxytocin, otherwise known as the ”cuddle” hormone, promotes pair bonding and monogamy in humans and animals.  The other leader was Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, where he studied animal emotions and behavior. 

Jewel nuzzles a cub - Feb 9, 2012Jewel nuzzles a cub - Feb 9, 2012Dr. Witt said that understanding how an attachment is formed and maintained is the subject of major research in a new scientific discipline called social neuroscience.  She said love and social attachments are involved in reproduction, a sense of safety, and reduction in anxiety. 

Cub feet in Jewel's face - Feb 9, 2012Cub feet in Jewel's face - Feb 9, 2012Dr. Bekoff said that current research on love in animals clearly shows that individuals of many diverse species form long and enduring social bonds and that they grieve the loss of loved ones very deeply.  He said “It’s real love, not ‘love.’“  He said nonhumans display emotions that include love, joy, happiness, grief, jealousy, envy, embarrassment, and disgust.  He mentioned examples of self-awareness and empathy in animals.  He mentioned the work of our old friend Dr. Donald Griffin of Harvard who pointed out long ago that the flexibility in animal behavior show clearly that many nonhumans make choices about what to do in changing conditions that would be impossible to program into their genes.  He said that it is often more parsimonious to say that animals are consciously making decisions than to say it’s all hard-wired into them. 

Jewel tends a cub - Feb 9, 2012Jewel tends a cub - Feb 9, 2012A questioner said, “Dr. Wit, you mentioned the classical example of the release of oxytocin that women experience when they are lactating and they hear a baby cry, which induces milk letdown.  Is it also possible that humans who feel a very high level of compassion for suffering animals (and suffering humans) have a larger release level of oxytocin and other neural chemicals that precedes this higher level of compassion?  Is it possible that people who generally feel a lower level of compassion are lacking sufficient levels of such neural chemicals?” 

Dr. Beckoff concluded by saying that it is important to know who animals are and what they feel and prefer. 

Then we turned to Lily and Faith’s Den Cam and saw Faith nursing and Lily gently grooming her and wondered what Drs. Witt and Beckoff would say about that.  We also thought how much Lily fans have absorbed about who animals are and what animals feel and prefer. 

There is nothing to compare with learning directly from the animals themselves as they simply live their lives and let us watch hour after hour.  The Den-Watch Team is recording it all. 

New videos of Jewel and her cubs from Feb 7 and 8 are online at and .

Lily about to swat vole - Feb 9, 2012Lily about to swat vole - Feb 9, 2012Later this evening a video of Lily and Faith will be posted to the bearstudy channel of YouTube which is .  As we were working on this update, a vole paid a visit to Lily.  Lily was still pretty alert from her recent activity.  Lily swatted at it but didn’t catch it.  This will be included in the video tonight as well!

Thank you for all you do.

Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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