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Joyful nature: the ethics of animal emotions

06 October 2022

Can animals feel emotions? When we look into the eyes of the creatures around us, even ones as distantly related to us as birds, we often feel there are emotions hidden beneath the surface. But is this intuition correct?


In her upcoming Tauhere UC Connect public lecture at the University of Canterbury, Animal Behaviour expert Professor Ximena Nelson, from the School of Biological Sciences, will explore the topic based on her research.

Professor Nelson is interested in animal behaviour and cognition, and studies this in animals ranging from spiders to kea parrots. Her interests have led her to explore the challenging topic of joy, or positive affect, in other animals, which will be the focus of her free public talk on Wednesday 12 October at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam campus.

“Do non-human animals feel joy, like humans do? Are emotions in other animals contagious, as they are in humans? How can we ask an animal that does not speak our language about its internal world?

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“Despite Darwin’s strides in discussing intelligence in terms of function rather than form, science’s view of animal intelligence remains largely Cartesian, in that non-human animals are still perceived as intellectually and emotionally distinct from humans,” Professor Nelson says.

“Great strides have been made regarding animal intelligence in the last few decades, yet intelligence goes beyond the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. In this talk, I will be discussing the progress made in tackling the challenging issue of animal emotions, and the ethical ramifications that this raises: as a society, what do we do if we find that other animals feel as do humans?”

Tauhere UC Connect public talk: Joyful nature – the ethics of animal emotions, Presented by Professor Ximena Nelson, UC Science, 7pm – 8pm, Wednesday 12 October 2022, in C1, Central lecture theatre, University of Canterbury’s Ilam campus, Christchurch. Register to attend free at: Tauhere UC Connect public talks are also livestreamed on the UC Facebook page.

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