Can animals fall in love?

Who doesn’t know they are asking this question: what does my pet feel? Like humans, animals can have their own moods and experience a range of emotions from joy to sadness. What about love? This accepted idea, long regarded as a feeling too noble to be recognized by animals, is cracking over time. “Describing the subjective experience of animals is always complicated, but I think the connection they feel can be so strong that we can talk about love” emphasizes Jessica Serra, an ethologist, an expert on animal cognition and the author of the book The animal within us (Ed. Humansciences).

The heartbreak of a separated zebrafish

The expert mentions a study on zebrafish published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B in June 2019. In the course of their work, these researchers demonstrated that, in human terms, Danio rerio (scientific name) whose pairs are monogamous, we experienced this. he would say “heartache” when he broke up with his other half.

“The behavioral test consisted of separating the pairs by separating the male from the female. She was shown to be depressed once she was away from him, even when she was with another man. Jessica tracks down Serra. For ethical reasons, the experiment lasted only 48 hours. The team conducted the same type of experiment on men and obtained similar preliminary results.

⋙ Flamingos are loyal to friendship

Animals become depressed as soon as they are separated

“In monogamous animals, whenever a partner dies or disappears, we regularly see depression and/or great stress in the remaining animal. Many do not want to find another partner., informs the ethologist. Behavior that can be attributed to the behavior of a man or woman during a divorce.

Not only do animals feel emotions, but they are not far from ours. “Mammals probably experience emotions like we do because their brain structures haven’t changed much over time. Everything happens at the level of a small structure called the amygdala. However, the expert notes that depending on the species, “the way emotions are processed by the cortex is different. »

If two animals are proven to be able to perceive a form of love for each other, how is the attachment of the animal to its master? To answer this question, pairing-separation experiments were conducted: this process, which normally begins between mother and child – to measure the degree of attachment – was repeated between the dog and its master. “Using a protocol originally designed to measure bonding between a human child and its mother, the researchers demonstrated that dogs explore their surroundings more readily in the presence of their master, and become anxious in his absence by vocalizing or scratching at the door to find him.” the expert continues. In other words, animals are very attached to their people.

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We have spent millennia denying what made us animals.

Another interesting fact: many animals, such as dogs, cats or certain rodents, produce oxytocin, also known as the love, pleasure or attachment hormone. In 2015, Japanese researchers published a study in the journal Science. Conclusion: When humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, the level of oxytocin in the animal’s brain increases markedly, which strengthens their bond.

Added to the question of emotions is the question of desire. When having sex, most animals do not have the desire to procreate when they mate, and love between two partners is not a necessary step: “When a cat is in heat, it’s the pursuit of pleasure, not the idea of ​​reproduction, that guides the transition to action.”, cites Jessica Serra as stating that many female mammals are equipped with a clitoris. Often they will or will not accept sex. According to Fleur Daugey, an ethologist who studies these behaviors, the proof that the pseudo-need for reproduction is not what drives their desire: the presence of homosexuality in animals observed in 500 species.

If the research on these topics progresses, the scientific community continues to worry about attributing human feelings to animals. For fear of being associated with them? Jessica Serra nods: “We hide, we don’t accept what we really are, animals driven by our sexuality, and we’ve spent millennia denying what ultimately turned us into animals. »

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