If you've ever watched your dog race to greet you at the door when you return home from work or cock its head sheepishly after tipping over a trash can, you could easily assume that Rover is capable of feeling the same kind of happiness and guilt that you do.
But Associate Professor of Neuroscience Andy Niemiec says it's not that simple. “Animals' sensory systems are different, their evolutionary history is different, and they have different problems to solve,” he says. “We can't know firsthand what an animal is feeling; we can only test it perceptually.”
His recent research has shown, for example, that rats make vocalizations akin to laughter when researchers play with them—and also make that same “laughter” when they want to play. It's not like guffawing at The Three Stooges, though. Rather, it's a sophisticated way to solicit and maintain social interaction.
Dogs, meanwhile, will drop their jaws and show the edges of their teeth—in a way that looks almost like a grin—when they're relaxed and content. “Does it mean the same thing as a smile? There may be contentment, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're happy,” Niemiec says.
In the end, he observes, we aren't living in a Disney world where animals are just like us. But that doesn't mean they're so unlike us, either. We may differ from animals in the degree and subtlety of our emotions. “But are we different in kind?” he asks. “No.”Read the Original Post