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Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans de Waal

Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans de Waal Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/27/1/109/867394/0270109.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 30 March 2022 Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves (London: Granta Books, 2019), 326 pp. The first step of de Waal’s argument that animals have emotions is empirical. With his acute talent in observing behaviors in primates and other animals, he provides a wealth of anecdotes, controlled observations, and psychological expe- r iments. In one instance, he recalls Borie, a chimp grandmother at the Yerkes Field Station, who frowned while staring at him because he had unintention - ally just sprayed a little chimp with a water hose. Instead of speaking of animal “anger” (in Borie’s example), of “fear,” or of “love” (in other situations), many scientists suggest focusing only on the functions of the related behaviors: “group survival,” “individual survival reaction,” “reproductive bond,” and so forth. But why this terminological restriction? the primatologist asks. If those behaviors were human, they would be explained by emotions. How could similar behav - iors, linked to similar neuronal activation, in one case arise from emotions, and in the other case not? Evolutionary theory supplies a further reason to think that humans and other animals share some basic emotions. If not, how could we explain the abrupt emergence, in evolutionary history, of human emotions? The ethologist concludes that “all the emotions we are familiar with can be found one way or another in all mammals. . . . The variation is only in the details, elaborations, applications, and intensities.” Even if de Waal’s argument is convincing, I think he sometimes pays too much attention to the first part of this conclusion, the similarity part, at the expense of the variety part. In my view, the author is, for instance, too critical of ethological analyses of emotions that try to define cultural differences in “our emotional makeup” (which is the title of a book, on this topic, by Vinciane Despret). Such emotional variety exists, to be sure, in nonhuman animals as well. The elaborations, applications, and intensities of emotions are never mere details; they are essential and should be described in parallel with, and afforded as much importance as, the similarities. — Thibault De Meyer doi 10.1215/0961754X-8723129 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 10 9 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans de Waal

Common Knowledge , Volume 27 (1) – Jan 1, 2021

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Copyright © 2021 Duke University Press
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0961-754X
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1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754x-8723129
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Abstract

Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/common-knowledge/article-pdf/27/1/109/867394/0270109.pdf by DEEPDYVE INC user on 30 March 2022 Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves (London: Granta Books, 2019), 326 pp. The first step of de Waal’s argument that animals have emotions is empirical. With his acute talent in observing behaviors in primates and other animals, he provides a wealth of anecdotes, controlled observations, and psychological expe- r iments. In one instance, he recalls Borie, a chimp grandmother at the Yerkes Field Station, who frowned while staring at him because he had unintention - ally just sprayed a little chimp with a water hose. Instead of speaking of animal “anger” (in Borie’s example), of “fear,” or of “love” (in other situations), many scientists suggest focusing only on the functions of the related behaviors: “group survival,” “individual survival reaction,” “reproductive bond,” and so forth. But why this terminological restriction? the primatologist asks. If those behaviors were human, they would be explained by emotions. How could similar behav - iors, linked to similar neuronal activation, in one case arise from emotions, and in the other case not? Evolutionary theory supplies a further reason to think that humans and other animals share some basic emotions. If not, how could we explain the abrupt emergence, in evolutionary history, of human emotions? The ethologist concludes that “all the emotions we are familiar with can be found one way or another in all mammals. . . . The variation is only in the details, elaborations, applications, and intensities.” Even if de Waal’s argument is convincing, I think he sometimes pays too much attention to the first part of this conclusion, the similarity part, at the expense of the variety part. In my view, the author is, for instance, too critical of ethological analyses of emotions that try to define cultural differences in “our emotional makeup” (which is the title of a book, on this topic, by Vinciane Despret). Such emotional variety exists, to be sure, in nonhuman animals as well. The elaborations, applications, and intensities of emotions are never mere details; they are essential and should be described in parallel with, and afforded as much importance as, the similarities. — Thibault De Meyer doi 10.1215/0961754X-8723129 L i t t l e R e v i e w s 10 9

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2021

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