Animals feel sad

Animal feelings: when elephants cry

For a long time, animals were considered to be a kind of automaton in biology: Since you cannot ask them about their emotional states and motivations, it was assumed, to be on the safe side, that they did not have any - or if they did, we simply could not know anything about them. So if we had the impression that the dog was happy, that would only say something about our human perception, but not about the dog, which we would humanize without permission on this occasion. In the meantime, however, the topic has become somewhat socially acceptable, and the relevant research is making the idea of ​​animal vending machines increasingly unlikely.

The zoologist Angela Stöger-Horwath from the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, who has been researching the acoustic communication of elephants for years, puts it in Darwinian terms: "Feelings are based, among other things, on physiological processes such as the mother-child bond that occurs through the hormone oxytocin is massively influenced. When it comes to feelings, hormones are always involved, and animals have them just like we do. Actually, one should rather prove that animals have no feelings than the other way around. " It is known from their own research objects, the African elephants, that they produce tears when they are in pain and that they spend long periods of time with dead conspecifics and sometimes even cover them up.

Rats as saviors in times of need

It is unclear whether this is real empathy, i.e. the ability to understand the state of mind of others. There are clearer indications of empathic behavior from rats. A Japanese research team subjected rats to the following experiment: One rat was in a cage, the door of which a second rat learned to open. If the first rat was thoroughly soaked - which the animals don't like at all - the second hurried to get it out of the predicament. The rats that had previously been soaked themselves were faster. Then the researchers got nasty: the helper rat had to decide whether to get a food reward first or to free its conspecific. Lo and behold: Most of the animals were initially active as rescuers.

Thomas Bugnyar and his colleagues, also from the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, work with ravens with completely different emotions, namely with expectations. Two pieces of food are brought out in an aviary - one is a very popular one, such as a piece of sausage or cheese, and the other is a less popular one, such as a piece of carrot or lettuce. Both are hidden behind a wooden wall with a peephole. If a raven comes into the aviary, he can see the delicacies through the peephole, but he cannot get them.

Nevertheless, the animals apparently have certain expectations: As long as both pieces are there, the test raven is very excited. Then, however, one of the two rewards will be removed. If the sausage or cheese remains, the raven gets even more excited - for example, he jumps up the walls of the aviary and constantly looks through the hole. The scene is completely different when the carrot or the lettuce is left over: Then the bird occupies itself intensely with everything it finds in the aviary, but only looks through the hole very briefly.

As a result, Bugnyar and his group want to find out to what extent other ravens, who only observe what is happening, let themselves be infected by the mood of the individual in the aviary. It is about the so-called cognitive judgment bias, in English "cognitive judgment bias". With humans this is, to put it casually, the classic attitude, which is expressed in "The glass is half full or half empty". According to Bugnyar, there are also pessimists and optimists with animals: In this sense, he and his employees have trained ravens to distinguish "black is rewarded, don't know" - only to then offer them different shades of gray in tests and observe their reaction. It would be expected that the "pessimists" among the ravens see gray as a "half empty glass" and give up more quickly or show different frustration behavior than the "optimists", for whom the gray embodies a half-full glass.

The facial expression of horses

The veterinarian Sara Hintze from the Institute for Livestock Sciences at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna deals with the emotional life of one of man's favorite animals. In her dissertation, she examined the facial expressions of horses, namely the wrinkles over their eyes. Of these, horse lovers have long been claiming to be able to infer the emotional state of their animals. Hintze exposed her test animals to positive situations such as scratching and negative ones such as a threatening-looking plastic bag and precisely measured the position of the upper eye folds. In doing so, she was able to prove that the wrinkles actually provide information about the animals' emotional state. In addition, she was able to show that people are also able to perceive this emotional state - at least when they see the whole horse: observers who were confronted with videos of the horses without knowing in which situations they were recorded could still find the right ones Associate emotions.

In a recently started project, Hintze and her colleagues are working on beef cattle. For the time being, a special test arrangement is not necessary: ​​It is about how the cattle cope with inactivity when kept in a completely normal manner - and how this affects their emotional state. (Susanne Strnadl, March 24, 2018)