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Animal Minds

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In this hour of Radiolab, stories of cross-species communication.

When we gaze into the eyes of a wild animal, or even a beloved pet, can we ever really know what they might be thinking? Is it naive to assume they're experiencing something close to human emotions? Or is it ridiculous to assume that they AREN'T feeling something like that? We get the story of a rescued whale that may have found a way to say thanks, ask whether dogs feel guilt, and wonder if a successful predator may have fallen in love with a photographer.


Patrick Hof, Alexandra Horowitz, Jonah Lehrer, Paul Nicklen, Paul Theroux and Clive Wynne

Animal Blessings

During the annual Blessing of the Animals at St. John the Divine Cathedral, the congregation might include any animal from Noah's ark. Why do these pet owners bring their furry, feathery and scaly companions to church? (Oh yeah, and view our slideshow of our day at the Cathedral).

Comments [50]

Spindle Cells

Is empathy a purely human quality? In this segment, Jad and Robert explore the inner workings of the spindle cell, those long neurons that might connect thoughts to feelings, with the help of Dr. Patrick Hof and Jonah Lehrer. Then they talk to Dr. Clive Wynne again to ...

Comments [20]

Sharing is Caring? Or is it a Sin?

Aren't animals just like furry little versions of us? Author Paul Theroux lays the smack down on E.B. White's penchant for anthropomorphism. His solution is that to love animals you must admit you can never share with them.

But Jad and Robert, dismayed at this posit, ...

Comments [29]

Comments [138]

Theists are idiots.

Jul. 23 2016 08:56 AM
Gary from Freeport, IL

What about when I come home and my dog has knocked over the garbage or chewed her bed and is hiding or hanging her head and will not look at me? I can see a dog showing submissive behavior when being scolded but I would suggest that this excessive submissive behavior without scolding or prompting is an indication of guilt.

Feb. 04 2016 04:03 PM
Tori Brown from Detroit, MI

So I have listened to this particular podcast twice now, and on the topic of spindle cells, I had a thought:

If spindle cells control how our 'logical', newer brain connects to our 'emotional', older brain and vice versa, could this potentially be a clue in to how autism develops?

Granted this may already be a topic of scientific research, I thought it was worth presenting to you guys. Though I am no where close to a scientist, I eat this knowledge 'stuff' up like candy (I'm a designer, and I listen to your podcasts while I sketch).

Thanks! Hope you see this.

Aug. 13 2015 02:42 PM
J. Smith from Baton Rouge, LA

I know "Animal Minds" is an old episode, but it saved the day in my class during a tornado scare this morning. Around 9 a.m. our principal called for us to get in our "shelter in place" positions because there was a tornado warning in our area. The sky turned pitch black and the power went out. My fourth and fifth graders were visibly upset. When I turned on the flashlight on my iPhone, I suddenly thought, "I'll play a Radiolab episode for them." The first one I could think of was "Animal Minds." I played it for them while we huddled next to each other, and after a few minutes, they were smiling and shushing each other so they could hear every word. It felt like we were transported to the 1930s, except, of course, with iPhones and Radiolab. Afterwards, several students whispered, "I love this weather." Thank you, Radiolab. :)

P.S. My students said the whale was definitely saying "thank you." Thought you'd want to know what the experts have to say on the matter.

Apr. 27 2015 10:19 PM
Toni J Wilde from Savannah, GA

I found that this NPR was very interesting. I too believe that animals, just as humans, have the ability to love and speak to one another. Animals are amazing, each has their own way of communication. Just because us humans don't hear or understand it, doesn't mean it's not there. Most animals can show communication through their actions. For example, dogs are extremely loving and show multiple personalities through their reactions. Just as humans, dogs and many others do the same.

Apr. 06 2015 09:49 PM

As a new listener, I LOVED today's show. WOW!! You guys are great. Thanks so much for a fascinating story.

Apr. 05 2015 07:08 PM
Bill from Sterling, VA

Perhaps the behavior of the whale stemmed from curiosity and a desire to register a memory of each of the people and things around when it was released.

The feelings that each of the divers had that the whale was expressing gratitude to them should not be given short shrift, however. Their sense of it may reflect an experience of inter-species communication that goes beyond mere anthropomorphizing. Perhaps their discussion of it afterwards reinforced this sensation, and even defined it, more strongly than each individually felt it as they experienced it. On the other hand, they all seem to hold this feeling strongly and they may well be right.

Gratitude, after all, does seem to be a basic emotion in humans. There's no reason other animals don't also experience it.

Apr. 05 2015 01:25 PM
David Gillman from United States

Jad was right to ask if the dogs that did nothing wrong are still feeling guilty. But he shouldn't have bothered asking a reductive scientist. The problem is not that we anthropomorphize dogs. The problem is that we anthropomorphize people. If you take the reductive scientist's position to its logical conclusion you will say that people are "only exhibiting submissive behavior" when they seem to feel guilty. If you object to this argument by saying that, well, I'm a member of the same species as a person so I know when a person is feeling guilty, then I would answer that I belong to the same family as a dog, and what is so human about feeling guilty?

To get real answers about animals you should talk to an ethologist instead of a reductive scientist. Or just read Konrad Lorenz's "Man Meets Dog".

Apr. 05 2015 12:44 PM
Betsy Daub from St. Paul, MN

I left a comment yesterday about the leopard seal story and that the narrator incorrectly states it takes place in the Arctic instead of Antarctica. Why is this not posted? This seems like an important factual error that should be corrected for others to see. Thank you.

Apr. 05 2015 08:31 AM
Kelly from Florida

A problem not addressed in this lovely episode is that we have two categories for describing animals. Wild (non-domesticated) and domesticated animals, which includes pets.

I experience this on a regular basis. I spend time every day with wild raccoons. When I describe the experiences of being with these animals or share photos I have taken of them, I notice that most people are listening for which category they fall into.

Are they wild or are they pets?

When I tell them that the animals in my photos are wild raccoons, they get confused. Looking at my photos, they see how physically close I am able to get to them, and they want to put them in the "pet" category. When I tell them that they do not come when I call, they don't have names and I have no control over their behavior they are confused again. They want the raccoons to fall into one or the other category.

In their minds, it seems to me, wild animals can't be social and will not allow a human anywhere near them. These animals certainly won't engage with humans.

Ask any wildlife photographer, such as the one in the last segment of the episode, and they will tell you that is simply not true. I have had long, complex relationships with "wild" animals. It is very clear to me that these transactions are complex and nuanced. In the words of the theologian Martin Buber, they are "The Other." With whom I am capable of having complex and meaningful interactions with and still not know what their experience of our time together is.

We need to examine our categories for animals. It seems fairly clear to me that mammals (and perhaps other animals as well who live in complex social groups such as whales, elephants and raccoons) are capable of a wide range of responses to humans. And that these responses arise from their adaptability and flexibility to a changing environment. As long as we insist that "animals" are less than us, we miss the opportunity for a more complex and marvelous world.

Apr. 05 2015 01:45 AM
Verbster from Alaska

The analogy of the bear was too lop-sided. Change the scenario to one where the bear acts more like the whale: Let's say after spending an hour cutting the ropes off the bear, being face to maw and eye to eye, the ropes fall away, the bear sprints into the forest and disappears, only to return minutes later at a run into the group of people who freed it. Of course, the people are scared by the bear's charge. But at the last second, the bear slides to a stop right up against a human, but instead of eating the guy, the bear nuzzles the man, or gently pushes him with a paw several times, or simply just gets close and looks him in the eye . . . and then goes around to each person there and does the same thing before trotting off into the forest or watching the people leave. Does that mean the bear is showing gratitude? Maybe. I do know it's better than being eaten.

Apr. 04 2015 05:59 PM
sam coleman from So. Cal.

Wanna see a grateful whale? Go to you tube , type in "Saving Valentina"'s amazing.

Apr. 04 2015 03:28 PM
GWelch from Boston area

I think that the whale story had merit. There is a key difference between sea mammals and land mammals - sea mammals know from birth that they will die unless they are able to surface. There are cases of people being buoyed to the surface by dolphins, who would have drowned otherwise. I remember hearing of a closing hole in an iced over surface, and whales took turns breaching to breathe. I have no doubt that the whale recognized that her life had been saved.

Apr. 04 2015 03:08 PM
GWelch from Boston area

I think that the whale story had merit. There is a key difference between sea mammals and land mammals - sea mammals know from birth that they will die unless they are able to surface. There are cases of people being buoyed to the surface by dolphins, who would have drowned otherwise. I remember hearing of a closing hole in an iced over surface, and whales took turns breaching to breathe. I have no doubt that the whale recognized that her life had been saved.

Apr. 04 2015 03:07 PM
Raffy Kock from Sunny Aruba

First part: great story. The doctor's explanation was a swiss cheese explanation, full of holes. The second part couldn't come close to the first as dogs are just not whales. Whales are known to be much more intelligent beings. So up to this point I still think the whale story is genuine.
Ok the geese, such a great story. Do you know about the "Lion man"?. This can be your next update. I would love you to debunk or validate this guy:
It's the weirdest thing I have ever seen and i would love for it to be true.

Best regards,


Apr. 04 2015 11:41 AM
Leslie Myles-Sanders from Bay City, Michigan

Just listened to the entire hour of your program and never heard you get the point your first scientist was trying to tell you about the whales when he said "I don't speak whale." For heaven's sake, try not to be so anthropomorphic. Animals (and other organisms) are DIFFERENT from us and it is ridiculous to impose our anthopomorthic ideas on them. For once try to LISTEN and LEARN from them.

Apr. 03 2015 02:00 PM
Callan from Lawrence, KS

What is that lovely guitar-picked tune threaded throughout this episode? I love it.

May. 27 2014 01:18 PM

I just want to talk about the point Clive Wynne brought up when he said that we can either think of animals in a 'human' manner or in an 'animal' manner as in not-human. His whole philosophy and thinking seems to stem from this basic black and white distinction. However, the way I think about it allows for humans and animals to share something much more. We are, after all, just another animal who developed over the years through evolution. There is no day when animals changed and broke off into a separate human distinction. We are animals at heart (and mind! for the purposes of this argument). With that thinking, it is almost common sense that we would share certain things associated with our brain (thoughts, feelings, etc) to an extent. Thoughts and feelings didn't just appear in human brains, but must have also developed and evolved as our physical bodies did. In that regard I think it is perfectly valid to empathize with animals to a certain extent. Especially ones like dogs and whales as discussed in this episode. Not sure if this is true for hump backs, but killer whales actually have a part of the brain that WE don't even have and is thought to be linked to emotions. So the idea that whales/dogs and humans can share emotions and make lasting bonds does not surprise me one bit. Just because we don't look alike and don't have the means to communicate does not mean we don't have things in common under the hood. Just think about it, we are no better than any other living creature down to plants and bacteria. Thanks for reading!

Jan. 24 2014 02:12 PM
Ken from Forest Hill, MD

Wow. I recently as of about 2 weeks started to listen to Radio Lab. I absolutely love it and I have learned so much, it's the best thing to listen to while drawing. Anyways, by comparison to the leopard seal story, I have an extremely small story of feeding by comparison. I have owls at the house that would hunt the snakes and mice during the spring/summer seasons. I saw one perched on a tree limb and grabbed the camera, then tried to find the best position to photograph it. In this process, I'm moving from the porch, to the stairs, underneath it and so forth. I realize then that it has something on the branch with it, placed like a tie on a rail, drooping. After zooming in as close as possible, I discovered it was a garter snake the owl had caught and was feeding upon. How cool. Then it tossed some snake guts onto the ground and began staring at me. I wondered if it didn't like those particular organs. Then it dawned on me: could it have tossed it down as some sort of offering? Did it think I was a scavenger who also wanted some of the snake, hoping I would take it and run? Or did the snake guts simply fumble out of it's beak? I walked back inside, uploaded the pictures, walked back out and it had flown away with no trace of the snake, the guts perhaps retrieved by the owl or by any number of creatures like birds, squirrels, field mice or the family dog. Just something interesting I wanted to share to you in this very interesting world.

Dec. 11 2013 05:22 PM
Eric M from Beijing, CH

I don't really understand why pointing to a cup with a grape in it (a human-born gesture) is being connected to basic emotions. It's like saying if an animal can't understand a wink it can't empathize with humans. I feel like Dr. Clive Wynne was trying to make connections that don't have any scientific merit.

Jul. 22 2013 01:04 PM
Keith from Lancaster, PA

this breaking news seems to have a lot to say in this conversation

Jun. 18 2013 10:13 AM
Gauthier from Queens, NY

When is "Animal Minds" going to be available for download from iTunes?

Jun. 17 2013 08:52 AM
tunie from Hawaii

Anyone who has interacted with animals with an open heart knows that interspeices communication not only happens but it is evolving faster than at any other time in history due to the extreme state of the environment. Animals, and insects, are FAR more intelligent AND emotional, than we've been led to believe or even imagined. The whole thing about whether it is anthropomorphic or not is totally irrelevant to the exchanges that actually happen while people debate whether or not they can trust their senses. Yes, errors in judgement happen, esp. with wild animals, in the same way they happen among different human cultures - good communication requires masterful attentiveness and the kind of open mind that many simply have not bothered to cultivate, regardless of their level of education.

Also, was so hoping to hear about the lab octopus that greeted his lab tech with flushing colors of pleasure and actual HUGS every time he came in for work! Saw that interview as a video maybe 10 years ago and lost track of it - it fits right into this discussion! Anyone who knows which one I mean, please post it here or email me! Thanks!

Jun. 17 2013 01:43 AM
Mark from Seattle, Washington

So . . . People are taking their anthropomorphized animals to an anthropomorphized deity for a blessing. These are people blessing animals, expressing their love, admiration and gratitude to another animal species in the only language they speak, human language. That being said, I would not be surprised to find similar capacities in other animal species. However, given our dismal track record for displaying genuine empathy towards our fellow humans, I question the ultimate good that would come from being able to speak with or understand other species. Until animals switch to solar power as an energy source, I think we're stuck in this "dog eat dog" world. But then again, we'd probably still fight over the sunny spots.

Jun. 16 2013 02:43 PM
Animal Talker from LA CA

I enjoyed Animal Mind radio.
You ended your Animal Mind radio with no answer how cross species can talk to each other.

I am not a scientist and do no have credential to speak about it but I did see the same event as the humpback wheal story for my pet dog called “Suni”. My dog showed exact same behavior as the humpback wheal.

If Mr. Winn experimented what I had seen it then he would have concluded the same as I did.

As we all know that brain of all animals are wired. It is difficult to train animals to follow what human beings are doing because animals have limited amount of memory whereas human being has bigger size in terms of memory size. Hence, we can be trained to do many tricks.

Dogs do carbon copy the nature of owners. Often times, you can tell how owners behave by looking at their pets.

When animal is inured, at that time, sensors are turned on saying that something has happened to their body. I also do believe that there is an irreversible switch that is associated with the circuitry somewhere in their brain. When the irreversible switch is on, the brain is permanently wired. Then the brain remembers only “next event” by connecting to the next memory.

I happened to see this real event accidentally with my own eyes for my dog.

This event in the case of humpback wheal is that brain remembers some species in this case, three human beings, helped the humpback wheal. The next event in the brain after the irreversible switch is “on” is to “thank you” as human being interpretation term. But the humpback wheal cannot recognize whether it is human beings or boat as the helper because their memory capability is limited logically. It does not have a logic circuit to make decision. So the humpback wheal touches every object including the boat saying “thank you”. This second event in the humpback brain remembers forever since it is now hardwired. Unfortunately human beings did not develop ability to talk back to other species.

For some animals more steps can remembers or more events can be hardwired.

I am a circuit design engineer; we do have very similar mechanism in some electronic circuit.

In any case, I can understand animal mind. Many dogs talk to me when I go to their neighbor everyday even many dogs are staying in houses far away from my running path. They know that I am coming. But these dogs never bark at regular people and other dogs unless they are territorial fight. Even birds do talk to me and I talk back to them all the time using their language. Not only dogs, when I see new born babies, many babies smiles at me and their mothers always look at me strangely. Amount of memory during first few years of newborn babies are growing very rapidly but they are still so small but partially developed brain cell of newborn babies could be same volume as animal volume.

PS. Sorry my writing is not good and not well organized but I just wanted to explain to you what happened to the humpback wheal event based on my ability.

Jun. 15 2013 11:33 PM

I suggest scientist's who actually work among wild animals have a different perspective..all animals have a language they speak, just because WE don't understand meaningless..animals who live in herds pods ect and rely on that structure to survive are most inclined to interact is well known that in the age of massive whaling, whales avoided human contact and would fiercely attack boats they encountered..It is about being prey and predator..if they think you are part of the food chain, or a threat..beware..the only sense that works better in a human, is thought..we can neither smell hear see or sense in the same realm as an animal can..they are far superior to us..not all our brains are created equal

Jun. 15 2013 04:23 PM
Mary Cody

To doubt that animals feel emotions similar to those of humans, especially the more social animals, is to overlook the evolutionary foundations of human emotion!

We're not unique in that way, and we're not as removed from our world as we often think. The bigger trick, I think, is to avoid assuming that most of the animals around us have thoughts as complex as ours. Blue whales aside.

Jun. 15 2013 04:14 PM
Dennis Brown from Portland, Oregon

The seal story reminded me of the time my wife woke me in the early morning with a jab to my ribs. I looked over at her and one of our cats was on her chest holding a still wiggling mouse about 2 inches from her face. She said, with teeth clenched, "Get it off of me." I picked up the cat with the mouse in mouth and deposited her outside and closed the door. I think the cat was bringing food to an incompetent hunter.

Jun. 15 2013 04:10 PM

Good program.

The question of animal intelligence really compels us to reexamine our beliefs about human intelligence. I suspect we tend to correlate consciousness too much with language. The more we connect with our own non-verbal forms of intelligence, the easier it is to perceive the intelligence of other species.

We certainly don't want to stray into superstitious thinking such as, "that crow really hates me." But the ability of crows to distinguish, remember and then harass humans who have threatened them has been demonstrated experimentally.

The leopard seal story is perplexing. They are the apex predator of their domain (Orcas are an infrequent threat) and solitary hunters. They share the common instinct of predators to defend a territory from competitors, and they eat a wide variety of prey, so "curiosity" is another of their evolutionary adaptation.

The animal that Nicklen encountered first challenged him with a threat display, as it would a competitor. When he did not respond "appropriately" it may have then "tested" him with gifts of penguins to determine whether he was a competitor, or something else. The leopard seal's attempt to "assess the threat" rather than instinctively attack is, in my opinion, a demonstration of intelligence - maybe not conscious "thought", but still intelligence... one kind that many humans fail at.

Jun. 15 2013 04:02 PM

The question was if the whale were expressing gratitude. That isn't really anthropomorphic. Seems obvious; but also simplistic. It might be that the whale was communicating a very complex message which the poor humans couldnt comprehend. The recognition of a sign such as pointing can also be mistaken between humans. So this is a complex issue. We could be pretty sure that there is emotion and relationship and meaning communicated among all creatures.
I fed a kitten weeks old with a bottle and we seem to understand many signs between us. She does not speak English however she understands a few words.

Jun. 15 2013 03:50 PM
Marv Lyons from Chula Vista, CA

Two thoughts occur after listening to the show on interspecies communication.

One. The amazing arrogance of "scientists" debunking animal intelligence. No question of the unique cognition of humans... but we clearly vastly underestimate the intelligence and capabilities of other species with whom we share our rare and wondrous planet.

Two. Cell structure and genetics are, of course significant, however... it is time you acknowledge, and explore how we broadcast to each other and other species through our energy fields... as they extend beyond our bodies. Also called auras. Remember we are considered a body within an energy field. All is energy. We broadcast.

And... the wackiness of your show is always refreshing.

With affection,


Jun. 15 2013 03:48 PM
E from PA USA

One more thing.

I've got to take exception to the idea that many listeners commenting seem to have, which is that disagreeing with an anthropomorphic interpretation of animal experience is to discredit the experience of nonhuman animals and to elevate the human species above other animals. To the contrary, it is by anthropomorphizing animal experience and conflating our own experience with the experience of other animals that one not only loses sight of what is unique about the human animal but also of what makes each animal species unique in its own right.

It just so happens that our most specialized adaptation is a brain capable of a lot more abstract cognition than other animals. Our brains are to us what fins are to fish and wings to birds, the olfactory sense to dogs. Acknowledging the uniqueness our adaptation does not imply our superiority anymore than acknowledging the unique anatomy of the hind legs of a cheetah implies this animal's superiority over a porcupine because the former would win a fifty yard dash. It's apples to oranges. This brain does not make us better. But, it does make us different.

Jun. 15 2013 03:12 PM
E from PA, USA

The whale story was fascinating.

But, I side with scientists who are skeptical of the idea that animals have the equivalent of human experience. Surely, they have their own experience which is no less valid. And I don't doubt that these experiences can be shared with humans on some level. But, something like guilt requires a lot of abstraction in cognition that in turn requires a lot of prefrontal development which animals lack. It not only requires a theory of mind, that is, understanding that other beings have beliefs, intentions and desires that are different than one's own, but it also requires creating a mental model of what occurred alongside a parallel mental model of alternate experience that is opposite from what actually occurred; and then holding both models in your head, along with the theory of mind, all simultaneously, to compare and contrast the consequences of each model, emotionally, morally, and intellectually, in terms of their affects on another being. That is beyond the cognition of a dog. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that many instances of what appears to be guilt in humans is, too, actually just an expression of submissiveness.

Jun. 15 2013 02:00 PM
Kira from Brooklyn

The fallacy is, at least in part, in believing that human emotions, reactions, and understanding are all particular to humans, like we are somehow exceptional in every way, just because we believe ourselves to be. We are part of this Earth and as such, we share far more in common with other animals than we might want to believe because of our huge egos. The scientist at the beginning who said that it is wrong to anthropomorphize animals is really just doing what humans can't help doing, whether they use science or religion or any other excuse for it: he is elevating our species, trying to set us apart and say that we are special. How self-serving is that!?

Jun. 15 2013 12:35 PM
Jason Simpson

The dog guilt experiment is not as great of an experiment as everyone thinks it is. It does not prove that dogs do not feel guilt or know when they do something that they should not have. And I know for a fact that my very seemingly emotional Boxer has acted guilty after she has done something wrong, but before I found out what it was. I know that I did not send the dog signals from the future. Either the dog recognized that what she had did would make me scold her in the future, or that she had not been able to control her impulses which would in the future disappoint me. It might not say "guilt" definitely, but it is a lot more in depth than the experiment tries to dismiss. It was a good experiment to see if dogs submit to their owners whether they do anything wrong or not, but it has no value in finding out whether dogs can have a guilty conscious or not. I would say based on my simple observation, I have found out more information than this experiment has dismissed. And BTW, I did not discover her transgression until over two hours later, which I then realized that that was what the look was about. I had even went looking about 10 minutes after the look and missed it.

Jun. 14 2013 02:17 PM
BloggerH from San Diego CA

I wonder that you did not talk to anybody at a Sea World affiliated park about whale behavior. They study that quite extensively, and are knowledgeable about what is and is not "natural" behavior for whales. As we can see from whale/human interaction at Sea World, whales seem to understand much more than we would think, and hold grudges, too.

Feb. 17 2013 07:16 PM
Kris H from Portland, Oregon

Emotions, such as gratitude, shame, anger, etc., must confer some evolutionary advantage or humans would not have developed them. Therefore, it is illogical to assume that humans are the only animal species with them. Apes and humans share the vast majority of their genetic material (over 98% by recent estimates), making it highly likely they have similar brain functions. A researcher can't definitively prove that my feeling of "sadness" or "gratitude" is the same as anyone else's--we as a culture have agreed on a word for which each of us has a unique concept but no way to quantify or measure. It is not reasonable to expect to be able to quantify, measure or otherwise prove emotions in another species, either.

Jan. 13 2013 12:19 AM

Mammals are mammals.

Jan. 06 2013 09:16 PM

Anthropomorphism can be a problem with 2 edges: while as a temptation it's understandable, as every species, incl. ours, relates as per within its own species, yet posing the principal obstacle in our understanding of other species, it seems that avoiding it at all costs can be as overdone. At least twice in this edition phrases have been use similar to 'do animals have human emotions?' What makes one cringe is the notion of 'human emotions' as being exclusive. Not only is forgotten that we're animals, too, and hence there's a likelihood of common ground, it implies that, would we be faced with an ultimate answer, it'd be a positive one that would be surprising. No doubt, the history of daily exchange between humans and other animals is one of perpetual misunderstanding, nevertheless it is the context of species among species that is an indispensable ingredient for understanding our own behavior. Miss Horowitz rightly pointed out the difference between expressions of 'genuine' guilt [or bad conscience] and 'mere' submission. One should counter that in human cases there's usually not much 'purity' either when it comes to emotions: keeping with the example, only think of any instance of 'bad behavior' on your behalf in the past that had been exposed, then imagine whether your feeling would have been the same if no one had ever found out about it. You'll end up realizing that it's in fact a blend of emotions [e.g. shame, embarrassment & inconvenience before guilt], and, importantly, that each one is an inert program. It should also be briefly mentioned that a scolded human being's facial and body-expression, where the person doesn't compensate with aggression, is one of submission. Dog or a human, whether you understand what you're scolded for doesn't matter. Mainly I think that the program missed discussing the most important question right in the beginning: what is an emotion? How does it work, what is it for? Once you do this, and my promise is that it'll become difficult to view any emotion as exclusively human property. Having said all this, it's not an ad for anthropomorphism either ;)
Beside this point, it was once again a great show, I particularly enjoyed the last section about the concerned leopard seal.

Nov. 15 2012 03:53 AM

On the dog study topic: the only thing it proved is that dogs react submissively to scolding voices. The real test of GUILT would have been to see if dogs that had done bad things would react submissively or scared IF they are scolded and IF they are NOT scolded.

Sep. 05 2012 09:28 AM
Lindsey from Charleston. SC

I am in the middle of listening to "Animal Minds," and I have a bone to pick with the dog scientist. I am no animal behavior expert. I'm not even a biologist. However, my mother does own a preschool, and I often interact with small children. CHILDREN (Humans, not dogs) will look "guilty" and feel shame if you yell at them even if they have done nothing wrong. I believe this "trait" shows itself in people of a certain developmental state, having to do with age and environment. If a (bad) parent yells at his/her child for something that the parent considers wrong, the child will feel and express guilt--EVEN IF they are in school and have been taught otherwise by teachers/other adult role models. Up to a certain point, children listen to their parents and are HIGHLY affected by them. I believe this is the same behavior exhibited by dogs. If their owner-the person they trust and rely on most in the world--chastizes him/her, the dog will feel guilt. Thoughts?

Jul. 03 2012 01:41 PM

Animals apparently think and dream and feel in their own unique way.
We humans should be so lucky to posses some of the qualities of animal minds and maybe shouldn't feel so arrogant in our supposed superiority over animals.
Everything is relative and somebody superior to us may look down at us in pity or amusement.

Apr. 23 2012 03:55 PM
Beverly Wildish from Lompoc, CA

Its too bad that the swimmers/divers didn't have recording equipment to record the whale's story. Maybe it was talking the whole time it was watching them (thanking them). We know that whales communicate verbally, most of the time we can't hear the register, we only hear some of it. Was the whale telling them some of their story -- letting them in on the most precious part of its life -- its personal story?! I'd love to hear a chapter or two from that day straight from the whale's mouth.

Feb. 22 2012 11:33 AM
Tess Martin from Seattle

I wanted to let Radiolab and its listeners know that the whale story in Animal Minds was the basis of this latest animated short:
Thank you for such an inspiring podcast!
Tess Martin

Jan. 28 2012 11:24 PM
Deb from Denver

My blue heeler went hiking with me at age 9 months and saw cattle for the first time...and went into a herding posture to move a cow out of the creek to the rest of the herd. I took photos in amazement. It was explained that this was "genetic memory". This made me wonder "How much of what we human animals do is simply genetic memory?". Perhaps I am not at all concerned that we are animals...and that our culture is somewhat different...but there are still physiological/biological/chemical/electrical realities that bind all creatures to our present, past and future. Thanks for thought-provoking radio.

Jan. 24 2012 02:52 PM
Meaghan from Hollister, California

On the point of the dog study, no one seemed to point out that all of the owners were using a harsh, scolding voice. With each dog I've had, they know when they have done something that I am not going to be happy with, and they make it very apparent with their actions, behavior, and body language-all without me having scolded them. Of course, if you yell at someone, they are going to react in a defensive, or submissive, manner. Also, the study on African Grey Parrots, particularly Alex, by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, is indicative of complex animal behaviors and emotions. As we and animals are all very different, so, too, are we very much the same.

Oct. 07 2011 03:42 PM
Than Bailey

I've been convinced that animals "think"
and plan by the simple fact of my cat's
going into my garden, killing a rat, and
then leaving it at my door TO SHOW
THAT he had been on the job!!!!

Sep. 24 2011 09:20 PM
Cody from Athens, GA

As others have said, there's no real reason to think that humans (which are animals, since we're being scientific) are emotionally totally different from other animals. Some people are so averse to recognizing parallel behaviors in non-human animals because they don't want to appear to submit to anthropomorphism, so instead they submit to anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrism, if you recall, was the number one myth broken by the most fundamental theory of biology.

Sep. 21 2011 11:54 AM

I've read that leopard seals play with their food. Couldn't the leopard seal in the last story have been just playing with the penguins (like cats play with their prey), rather than trying to feed the photographer? Maybe it isn't as fun of an explanation, but seems more probable.

Aug. 25 2011 11:29 PM
Katie from Hanover, PA

I can say that when I come home from work and my dog has gotten into something I've yelled at him for previously - he gives me the guilty look before I even find the evidence.

Jun. 29 2011 12:20 PM
Aviram from Israel

I really enjoyed this episode, and I think the decision to end the show with the leopard seal story was very wise. It is a wonderful, moving piece.

However, I had a major problem with the bear analogy. I found it to be rather weak.
A bear's attack of a rescuer might be ungrateful, but it's much more likely that it is simply a bear behaving the normal way bears behave - The attack is probably motivated by survival instincts, territory guarding, self defense or simply hunger. The point is, that attacking people (or other animals) is part of the behavioral repertoire of a bear. It's not uncommon at all and can be explained by many feasible common bio-evolutionary reasons, which have nothing to do with gratefulness or ungratefulness. The whale's extremely unusual behavior, on the other hand, is not as clear cut as that of the bear. This is not normal whale behavior, I think. A better analogy will be a bear who hugs you (gently) and licks your palm after you saved it. This would obviously be a very unusual gesture as well.

This argument's inability to persuade me does not imply that I believe we can safely deduce the whale did indeed feel gratitude. We cannot know this, of course, and we should be wary of excessive antropomorphizing; Nevertheless, there's nothing foolish or inconceivable about a sense of gratitude or guilt in animals. I think the angels comparison is a blatant hyperbole and actually it's very unscientific.

Also, the parsimony argument suggested by some commentors seems strong and noteworthy.

Great show, as always.

May. 12 2011 07:37 PM
Rob from Pittsburgh

Jad, please, PLEASE stop saying "begs the question" in that way. I do not think that means what you think it means.

Apr. 27 2011 04:40 PM
Katherine from Gettysburg PA

Great show. I have passed this one on to many people. I do disagree with the two scientists Clive Wynne and the other woman (I didnt get her name sorry:) though regarding the dogs feeling guilt. I have studied dog behavior very closely for many years. I actually have a dog now who exhibits a behavior that would be called something like guilt. This dog, without having heard any sound from a person will go and cower in a corner or in her bed after she has done something wrong. The scientists on your show were performing their tests with dogs and they were using their voices talking to the dogs in a stern voice after which each dog was behaving in the same way. Of course, this is a natural reaction to the stern voice in the human. Becuase the human is usually using a kind voice. Dogs learn by association so they associate the kind voice with the kind touch or treat. When they hear that unusual sound of a stern voice, they will whine or put their ears down, or possibly lay down because of the voice. The two scientists are not studying carefully enough. The dog I have will not even need to hear my voice or see me at all to know that she has done something that is forbidden or "bad". If she has broken into the chocolate supply she will disappear quietly into another room or area and stay there. If I come in later she will NOT get up and wag her tail and be happy to see me. She will stay laying down, ears down, legs curled up under her, and stay there and just look at me. If I keep staring at her, she will look away. If I frown at her, she may even move away further. This is all WITHOUT me saying anything, with eye contact ONLY. Lets compare the chocolate with a dog treat. Lets say I leave one piece of each on the couch about 4 feet away from eachother. She will get up there and eat the dog treat without even looking around or looking over at me. With the piece of chocolate she will look around several times to see if anyone is looking at her. If no one is looking at her and she is very sure, she will take the piece of chocolate and slink away into a corner of a room to take the wrapper off and eat it. If someone DOES see her, she will put her ears down while she is near the piece chocolate and she will move away from it and go and sit down. If someone sees her WHILE she is eating the chocolate, she will drop the chocolate, ears down, tail down, and walk away to a corner of a room and lay down there. This is all WITHOUT saying anything to her or making noise of any kind. This is only with eye contact. So In my opinion some more studying is necessary to determine the extent of a dogs intelligence. So, in wrapping this up, I would say that as far as the whales going up to each person the way it did after being rescued, shows grattitude in some way. It the "the way we interpret it". Animals interpret our behavior and they act accordingly. So we, in turn, also interpret theirs as we see it.

Mar. 24 2011 10:53 AM
Raymond Salazar from Seattle Washington

Hi there,
I'm a big fan listening here in Seattle, Washington. Yesterday played the episode "Animal Minds" of season 7. Wonderful show as always and I side with the animals, of course. Key to the show was the question, "Do dogs feel guilt?" to which you showed that what we dog lovers assume as "guilt" was, in fact, submissive behavior.
The question I'd like to pose is, isn't this thing we call "guilt" in humans really just submission behavior mislabeled? People do feel "guilt" over things that they are innocent of, I know I often do. Sort of like, fear and excitement; some brave self deluding individual who thinks that they are immortal would mislabel "fear" as excitement, and those who accept our own mortality might accept it as "fear". Labeling the adrenaline rush as "fear" would cause the individual to compound that fear, whereas the label of "excitement" would help to not be overwhelmed by the adrenaline that was pumping through his veins.
Just a bias reflection.
Keep up the good work! :)

Mar. 20 2011 11:30 PM

The whale story almost had me in tears, the beauty of it is just amazing.

While she may not have been saying "thank you" perhaps she was looking curiously at the creatures who had rescued her.

I agree with some of the other comments, why do we need to think that animals don't think the same way we do? Why do we have to assume that their thought processes are different when on the whole the structure of their brain is very similar to our own? As with liver and kidneys and other internal organs that do the same job in other lifeforms why would we think their brains act in such a different way?

And on the animals feeling guilt when they have done something bad... of course any animal being roused on will become submissive. But the question of guilt is on discovery of the act for which they should be guilty.

Our cat slinks away from us and avoids us when he has done something he knows he shouldn't have. And the dog, while he doesn't avoid us acts very differently when we come home to find he has ripped things apart. His emotion evident BEFORE he is yelled at or 'punished'.

I always worry about the arrogance of humans.

Mar. 09 2011 09:32 PM
Natalie Erdelt from Santa Monica, CA

About an hour after I listened to this episode, I went to a guitar lesson and a dog bit off part of my face. Crazy, I know.

Now I really know the power of the animal mind, and the power of Radiolab.

I'm still a huge fan though.

Feb. 18 2011 01:31 PM
Amy Whitney from Ithaca, NY

A wonderful account of an encounter with a whale can be found in Lynne Cox's book "Grayson."

Feb. 03 2011 10:23 PM
Katie from Salt Lake City, UT

It seems the experiment with the dog showing submission/guilt did not provide a valid control group.

I mean, c'mon, what dog owner hasn't come home to a, er, submissive looking dog and asked, "What did you do?!" only to later find garbage strewn across the kitchen floor or your favorite leather boots chewed beyond recognition?

Just sayin'.

Jan. 26 2011 02:32 PM

Has anyone read Peter Benchley's memoir, Shark Trouble? In one anecdote, he describes a very similar experience to that with the whale, only his encounter was with a giant manta ray. The ray was similarly entangled, and when Benchley and the boat's crew freed it, it took each of them for a ride on its back.
Neato, right?

Nov. 29 2010 09:08 AM
Suz from Virginia

I think you are missing the point of the segment. It's not about what the seal was thinking or doing, it was about how Paul felt.

Not saying your point isn't valid--only that it is insignificant except for how it leads to Paul's feelings toward the seal.

Nov. 08 2010 05:59 PM

I feel compelled to point out something that Paul Nicklen seems to be overlooking in his interpretation of what was going on between the leopard seal and him. It may be true that the seal was trying to feed him or even teach him how to hunt, but I believe it is not unlikely that the seal thought he was also a seal.
He mentions that the first thing the seal did was head straight for the camera, which had a large fisheye lens on the front. The first thing the seal saw up close then was a reflection of herself in that lens. We don’t know how good her eyesight was nor whether she had ever seen a diver or camera or a reflective object before in her life. So it is easily as likely that she was trying to help a slow young seal as it is that she was trying to feed a human.
Nicklen is guilty of just what the entire piece is about – he assumes the seal knows and believes the same things he does; that the two of them are different from each other in fundamental ways yet can somehow communicate. But he doesn’t know what the seal knows and he can’t.

Nov. 06 2010 02:27 PM
Sarah from Lexington, KY

Animal minds is a top 5 favorite of the shows. I listen to radiolab everyday as I walk to my classes and have listened to this one multiple times. When I hear the story about the divers releasing the whale from the crab nets I get a very emotional feeling. It is an inspirational and a beautiful story, a bit surreal, but it really makes me appreciate the significance of kindness and how the feeling of gratitude knows no boundaries regardless of who or what may be feeling it

Oct. 20 2010 10:12 PM
Sam T from Brooklin

I enjoyed the program, but Theroux has me quite wound up and it's not the first time. I found his essay on the same topic in Smithsonian more egregious. He seems to have it in for White and to think he's keeping his few free range Hawaiian hillside geese in a superior way. Any of us has the right to "feel like Adam" as we relax in a pastoral scene, but the feeling shouldn't be taken very seriously. If I call the gander a bit of a dandy in speaking to other humans, I don't see the harm. I wish he'd stick to relaxing with his geese or try some goats, and leave White's good work alone.

Oct. 01 2010 05:55 PM

I'm not getting how pointing to a cup proves animals don't have empathy. Knowing that you want whats under a cup and knowing that you are feeling pain are two entirely different things. One is instructional the other is feeling. An animal many know that you have a feeling of want, but not being instructed in your way of life, will not understand what it is that you want.

Sep. 27 2010 10:34 AM


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Sep. 16 2010 12:52 PM

Hey, can anyone tell me the song that starts at 14:10? It's very melancholy, but in a good way...

Sep. 12 2010 06:09 PM

The Moth podcast released this week (May 24th) is a story from scientist Irene Pepperberg about her relationship with her surprisingly clever parrot, Alex.

Very apropos of Animal Minds and worth the listen! []

May. 25 2010 05:16 PM

Wow, I want a friend from another species. I thought I was cool because I did study abroad in college.

Feb. 26 2010 11:06 PM

Music at 22:30 is
"Danelectro 3"
Yo La Tengo / Danelectro EP
Itunes doesn't have it but I got it from

If you like this song you would also like;
Geoffrey Oryema

Feb. 24 2010 07:34 PM

Thanks for this show! One quick question/correction: With the tale of Paul Nicklen and the leopard seal - this is NOT an Arctic predator. It is an ANTARCTIC predator. Paul is well known for working in both polar regions. I've had good fortune to work with him briefly on board an expedition ship in both polar regions and have always enjoyed this story of his. This story occurs in the Antarctic and not the Arctic ocean. It's a pretty significant difference!
I presently work along the Antarctic Peninsula supporting science research at Palmer Station and have constant encounters with these animals. Despite the mistake, however, thank you so much for this fun animal episode of Radiolab! I must say that your show is terribly addicting to listen to while working in the boathouse down here.
Best! Ryan

Feb. 23 2010 08:41 AM

Are Spindle Cells visible in our DNA? I wonder how and when these cells evolved. Did early hominids have spindle cells?

Feb. 04 2010 03:16 PM

I enjoyed listening to this episode of Radio Lab, but it did at times have me yelling at my radio! Like Dan Warren above, I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I second everything he said.

It is far more likely (parsimonious) to propose that animals experience the similar emotions when exhibiting similar behaviours as humans than to insist that similar behaviours are accompanied by completely different emotions! The burden of proof would then fall onto those who insist that humans are "special", not onto those of us who are simply following Occam's razor.

I have a good friend who is a cognitive psychologist and I have had arguments about this very issue with him. His major point seems to be that psychologists have constructed tests that only humans can pass, and therefore humans are "different" and the only ones with "true cognition". These tests are incredibly contrived, and over interpreted - much like Dr. Horowitz’s experiment.

Jan. 30 2010 09:36 PM

Great show (as always). This show remided me of a story about two elephands in at the Tennesee Elephant Santuary. Jenny & Shirley had been separated for 22 years, but showed amazing emotion when reunited in 2006.

Jan. 30 2010 11:42 AM

In regards to the "guilty" dog experiment. I s there a possibility that the dogs reactex in the same way that most people do to cops or authoratative figures. If you think about it we (people) generally act submissive around authority figures whether we've missbehaved or not. Its just a thought

Jan. 29 2010 10:03 AM

When biologists see a similar physical structure from two different species, the first assumption is that they evolved from the same source. In most cases, the chances of the same structure evolving independently is unlikely. Likewise, I believe that similar behaviors exhibited by animals not so far away on an evolutionary scale likely result from similar reasons. For example, if we see a dog lovingly caring for her puppies, the behavior probably results from feelings of love. I think this explanation is a simpler one than saying that the dog evolved completely different psychological structures that result in the same behavior.

Jan. 28 2010 04:26 PM

This is a compelling episode, especially the anecdotes, but also incredibly frustrating to me for two reasons, both mentioned in other comments:

1) The bias against accepting animal emotions shown by those interviewed. Their requirements seemed so high, I'd be curious how they'd prove to themselves that other humans have emotions - it reminds me of the Problem of Other Minds,

2) Much more relevant people could have been interviewed! Radiolab, how could you go to a break after making a joke about a bottle-fed dolphin and then just move on WITHOUT TALKING TO SOMEONE AT SEAWORLD?!

It seems very arrogant to put a burden of proof on emotions in other animals. Even from a layman's point of view, based on the information presented in the podcast: we understand that emotions cause useful behaviors that would not be easily executed out of logic (i.e. defending loved ones = propagating genes); and we were told that spindle cells connect the highest-evolved parts of our brain to the inner, older brain where emotions lie. So how could it be that other animals lack this mechanism for eliciting critical survival behaviors, and lack a part of the brain we know to be evolutionarily very old? We suddenly grew emotions when we came out of the trees, and animals might have primitive passions but are 'emotionally disconnected'?

The question would make more sense, and have a less obvious answer of YES, if it were framed as asking what interspecies communication is possible, and how our emotions map to those of other species - a similar problem to that of inter-cultural (mis)understanding.

Jan. 28 2010 04:21 AM

Have to agree with Jad and Robert and other posters that sometimes you dont answer the questions you put forward. Which can be a bit annoying, but it DOES PROMPT ME TO THINK FURTHER about the issues and stories you tell-which is why I'm a fan! I agree with several posters above that the question of OUR EMOTIONS could have been delved into deeper, and are they just evolutionary physiological responses, and WHY WOULDN'T other animals possess similar "feelings" if it gave them an evolutionary edge. Imagine the fate of a species of defenseless mammal like us if we did not have the feeling of love for our babies, and didnt have the urge to protect them. Maybe the protective instinct we observe in other animals for their young is the result of similar feelings of "love" the animal actually experiences inside their brains, but we just see it as mechanical instinctive protection. I dunno, and I doubt anyone does. Thanks for a great series of shows over the years.

Jan. 27 2010 09:21 PM
Ashley M

I found it incredibly interesting that hand rearing wee baby wolves taught them to be friendly to humans, and view us as companions. I think of human babies & child development- When a child is in the care of a guardian & then abandoned or made to feel unsafe, the emotional reaction & ability to trust & view humans as "companions" seems to be affected similarly. From there, is a behavioral pattern that can cause problems with human relationships, where pointing or even "I care for you" just does not register as with the chimpanzee. And I heard the brain is a little resistant to change. Peace, Love, :)

Jan. 27 2010 05:12 PM
ben tillotson

wonderful show, they are all wonderful for that matter. A small correction. E.B. White didn't write The Elements of Style. William Strunk Jr. wrote it. White was a student at Cornell in 1919 where strunk taught a course called English 8. In 1957 Macmillan commissioned E.B. White to revise it. I doubt Strunk would care and imagine White would be tickled.

Jan. 26 2010 05:42 AM

I'd also like to know who performed that music--sounds like a banjo down in a hole (with drums).

Jan. 25 2010 11:20 PM

One of the top 3 RadioLab episodes to date. Thanks guys!

Jan. 25 2010 04:12 PM

I appreciate many of the other comments. Communication is the issue more than emotion. Context is everything. All energy, and all life is a continuum that thrives on understanding and harmony. Our humanity needs to answer these questions for the hope of the future.

To many other commentors' point - our ability as humans to experience emotion, understand our emotion, express that emotion or interpret others emotions, on any level of accuracy or conistency, is itself a highly complex, variable and most uncertain process. And we do a pretty lousy job of teaching or using best practices anyway (why do i need to go to therapy to learn active listening? :0 )

I believe that "emotion" is a wildly misunderstood, poorly defined concept that means very different things to each of us. The only chance we have to make sense of it all is CONTEXT.

The context of behaviors, expressions, past experience, history, etc. all build the framework from which any interpretation of our experience (my simple definition of emotion), and I believe that this emotional context allows all creatures, virtually all life, to share emotion, accepting that some will be more simplistic and some more complex. I have seen a wild animal shot and suffer in agony before death - plenty of emotion being expressed there. I've have dog and cat friends. Yes, friends. They know me, behave differently with me than with others, understand my gestures and share certain behaviors with me that they don't often share with others. They get excited to see me, and i really look forward to seeing AND being with them. Sometimes more than their owners!!!

Context: Had the whale behaved this way at a random meeting 18 miles out to sea, then interpreting behavior might be a little more challenging. But to have her so carefully, patiently and deliberately encounter each diver after they saved her from a most painful, and precarious situation makes me feel (yes, experience my own emotion) sort of stupid for seeing her behaviour as anything by consciously expressing something along the lines of gratitude. It may not be what the pope thinks of as gratitude, or Rush Limbaugh or even my high school football coach, but i'm willing to bet its close enough to what i consider one organic creature's sense of being helped by another, and wanting to say "thanks" to the one that helped it. These stories are common, and not just from non-humans to humans - sometimes it's the critters that pull our ass out of the fire, literally.

Our human experience is part of the continuum of life. I hope that we continue to ask these great questions, and that Radio Lab continues to bring together as many perspectives on these great topics as possible. I might even suggest they spend less time with the Clive's of the world (not that his perspective wasn't worthy, it was) but use the precious minutes of their show to bring in even more perspectives. I think parents could have a lot to say on this topic. Little children can't talk early on, and can't express themselves very well until many years later. But parents can interpret emotions being expressed quite well. Conversely, many adults struggle to experience or express emotions EFFECTIVELY and misunderstanding is at the heart of most conflicts. Our relationships and our communities struggle to maintain unity, connectedness and to harvest our true potential because we fail to interpret or understand each others' emotions.

Believing in the life force, emotional experience and relational capacity of our animal friends may well be a very important part of seeing how much we still have to learn about our human brothers and sisters, and the opportunity we have to make life better for all through effective communication and appreciation for the value each life brings, human or not.

Jan. 22 2010 03:43 PM
frank rice


Jan. 22 2010 08:17 AM

Oh, Radiolab, I love you. This episode was such a fun one!

Jan. 21 2010 12:59 PM
frank rice

Brilliant simply Brilliant!! LOve it

Jan. 21 2010 02:28 AM

Illuminating episode as always, but I have quite a lot of constructive criticism for anyone that's interested.

First of all, I feel like RadioLab struggled with this episode because they never put their thumb on the right question to ask. Before we can ask if members of other species have emotions, don't we first need to ask the simple question: How do I know YOU have emotions? Seems silly, maybe? But it's just as valid a question—scientifically speaking—for me to ask whether Clive has emotions as it is for him to question whether his dog has emotions (arguably it makes even more sense, because I don't know Clive, whereas Clive knows his dog very well— it's only my ASSUMPTION that Clive is just like me that makes that an odd question). In fact, this question is not only scientifically valid, it's culturally and historically relevant as well. All too often in history humans have determined that other groups of humans do not have emotions, often with tragic results (from our contemporary point of view, that is).

I would have loved to see an exploration of the relationship between communication and perceived emotion... and possibly also between higher-order communication and internal emotions that are not externally exhibited. I rather wonder if our perception of human emotions as being very complex and nuanced is due largely to our very complex and nuanced ability to express those emotions, for example. But to study a relationship between two things, one first has to distinguish between the two, which I feel is where this episode missed the mark.

The next valid question, in my mind, is: What is the relationship between emotions and actions? I want, therefore I act. If my desire is my motivation for my actions, then what does that say about how I interpret the actions of others? Is it preposterous to presume that an ant or a bumblebee is full of desire? This question may seem like it's wandering slightly off topic, but to me it's central to understanding the motivation behind a creature's actions (and that motivation is the big question mark that this whole podcast revolves around).

Regarding the whale, I very much like the idea of the whale thanking its rescuers, but the first scientific question that has to be asked is: Was the whale attempting to communicate at all? Intention seemed clear due to the fact that its behavior was methodological, but it's more logical to assume that it was collecting information than it is to assume that it was communicating (not to say that it was exclusively doing one thing or another).

Clive seemed to confuse functional communication with emotional communication/perception in his story about dogs and wolves and its relevance to the whale. The test demonstrates that dogs and wolves are both capable of developing the ability to interpret basic, functional human communication... to extrapolate anything more from the test would be unscientific (Clive, man, I'm sorry, you are not getting a passing grade on this episode).

Theroux's criticism of White strunk me as silly. Human language is for human communication and human emotions. If any author wants to communicate anything about animal emotions in a human language, it necessarily involves human interpretation... Even a scientific method is a form of human interpretation— one based on rigid rules that are often bent to conform to human biases and preconceptions (there's plenty of proof of that in this podcast). Clearly White was not attempting to be purely scientific with his writing... he is an author adept at writing compelling works by attributing strong emotions to his characters... and who is he to say that the defeated goose didn't feel dejected or ashamed? Just because it has the tenacity (yeah, that's right) to try again another day doesn't say one thing or another about its emotions at that point. Not to mention that human language is subject to cultural and personal interpretation... I might be more liberal with my use of the word 'malice' than Theroux, for example.

The Paul Nicklen part about the leopard seal was amazing, including the photo links (thanks Anonymous). Paul seemed in some ways to be the least opinionated person interviewed in this episode, so that was a nice way to end the show.

If anything, this episode was about how humans struggle to interpret animal behavior and relate that behavior to our own. I think our difficulties in analyzing ourselves from a strictly scientific point of view is only exacerbated when we add other species into the mix.

Please forgive my rambling!

Jan. 20 2010 08:22 PM

AMAZING PICTURES of the the leopard seals!

Goes with the final segment of this radio lab. I wish there were picture galleries associated with each radio lab. I think it would really enhance it.

Jan. 20 2010 05:44 PM

i think this might be my favorite radiolab show ever. you outdid yourselves! thanks and happy new year!

Jan. 20 2010 01:50 PM
Mari Schindele

Wow--another beautiful episode! My kids listen to Radiolab by proxy, because every time I hear an episode, I tell the whole thing to them at dinner. Interestingly, my son (9) is convinced that the leopard seal thought Nicklen was her mate, while my daughter (7) thinks the seal thought Nicklen was her baby.
One question: what was up with the guy who couldn't tell the difference between Jad's and Robert's voices?
Thanks for such a great show.

Jan. 20 2010 11:07 AM

Hi, another nice show. What really struck me, though, was the underlying assumption that science should be looking for the Building Blocks of this or that phenomena, eg., could spindle cells really be The One Structure that enables empathy.

It's an old thought habit of ours, but by now: physics got down to "building blocks" and they are mostly empty space and extremely mysterious interrelationships; biology got down to "building blocks" with genes, but it turned out there are way more characteristics than can be accounted for by the number of genes, according to the Human Genome Project, and now the idea is it has something to do with complex relationships between the proteins; etc.....
Animals with gills can breathe underwater - it's so tempting to look for the analogous feature that allows empathy, but it seems that the last hundred years of science have been steering us away from this kind of question, perhaps toward better descriptions of the relationships that give rise to the world we know.

Jan. 19 2010 05:45 PM

I would love to have seen the pictures of the seal. You both seem to be looking at them but you don't post them on the your site. If you can please post these pictures so we all may see.

Thanks much, and love your show!

Jan. 19 2010 02:09 PM
Erik Schaumann

Who on your staff chose the "Angels from on High" men's chorus transition piece? I loved to hear it. "From in Cumorah's lonely hill, a sacred record lies concealed" it speaks of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I'm sure there were no hidden messages, But I was suprised to hear it played on the show. I am a former member of the BYU men's chorus, so it was exciting to hear a piece I've loved for a long time on Radio Lab!

Jan. 18 2010 10:57 PM

Thanks for the catch.wish all the best

Jan. 18 2010 01:34 PM
Tracy McIntyre

After years of digesting information about animals exhibiting behavior that was once considered the exclusive domain of humans, I have concluded that the only thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is the need to use toilet paper.

Jan. 18 2010 10:10 AM

Thanks for a great show as always.

I'm also curious to know who was playing the transition music at the 22:23 mark during this show.

Jan. 18 2010 03:38 AM

RadioLab is the greatest radio show of all time.

More! More!

I once interviewed a researcher in animal cognition for my own (vastly inferior) podcast, Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot.

Jan. 18 2010 12:45 AM
jane Sokolow

I can't understand why you didn't consult an animal behaviorist for this podcast. Why turn to a neuro scientist, a writer, and a photographer, when animal behaviorists actually STUDY this subject and you omit them? You spent a whole hour pooh-poohing people anthropomorphizing animals, then end with a leopard seal story, in which you castigate the guy who went through this experience b/c he didn't handle it as if it were a human interaction.

You say repeatedly that you're not going to answer the leading question. Well, are you determined NOT to answer it? If so, you're going about it in the right way... by not talking to people who might actually have relevant answers.

Jan. 17 2010 11:40 PM
Carla DeMello

What a great show! But I really wanted more about the dog/pointing thing. Did Clive try raising a chimp and see what happened re pointing? And of course he doesn't have to because as anyone who has dogs AND cats knows, cats don't follow your point or if they do I've never seen it and I've had both dogs and cats for years and years. When I point the dog looks where I'm pointing and the cat sniffs my finger. Needless to say, the dog gets the yummy thing. So that would debunk the "raised with humans" hypothesis but I don't think it has to do with intelligence or being more or less tuned in to people either.

Jan. 17 2010 04:57 PM
Ted Jones


Thanks for your response. Not knowing the weight of the pots or the size/make of buoys I was having a hard time picturing. Also, I figured if lines were slashed, the buoys may no longer be tethered to the pots. I've heard that derelict pots continue to attract crabs, and the trapped crabs eventually act as bait for more crabs and the cycle basically continues until the pot is defunct (ie: after years of corrosion). The whale is certainly a magnificent creature, but I personally wouldn't want to make a choice between two species.

Jan. 17 2010 04:40 AM
Eric Raymond

The bait in crab pots does not last indefinitely. As someone who has fished crab commercially, I can tell you that more than likely the bait was gone by the time the divers cleared the pots from the whale. The buoys themselves cannot float the 100 lb. crab pots. So, yes the buoys sank into the abyss along with the pots. Without bait, the likelihood of crabs being caught in the traps is negligible. So if two or three crabs ended up wandering into the traps by chance, I would consider it "gene pool cleansing" and it would certainly be worth the life of such a magnificent and obviously grateful creature.
Eric Raymond

Jan. 17 2010 02:26 AM
Ted Jones

The imagery in the opening whale story was powerful. I'm left with a couple of questions though. The buoys sank in to the abyss? Buoys sink? Did the divers rig the lines they cut so the crab pots could be recovered? If not, those pots will be be fishing crabs (ie: destroying the crab population) for many years to come. If "ghost" fishing gear was left behind, was freeing the whale really worth the price? Just some thoughts...

Jan. 16 2010 10:38 PM
Nick B

Did the divers take any pictures of the whale?

Jan. 16 2010 02:40 PM

Loved the episode, you guys are awesome.

Question about the dog remorse study and interpretation by Horowitz... It occurs we can never know what the animal is experiencing, a philosophical challenge with respect to subjective experience. Of course we can measure things like neurometrics, fMRI, and get a clear picture about what is happening objectively; but this only tells us something about what is happening, not the experience of it. Do we all see yellow the same? We can't finally answer the question of bridging the subjective and objective with our current way of knowing. But isn't it the nature of good inductive reasoning to make substantiated correlations until it suffers scrutiny and stands out as the most predictive. Looks like a fish, acts like a fish; probably a fish!

It turns out there're universal emotion indicators in man, and similar but different ones in animals! These've been codified by Dr Paul Ekman like in you cool previous show, and in _Blink_, and also in the Primate Facial Action Coding System. These facial actions are mapped to emotional brain centers in the same way as humans with minor variations. Dogs, similarly.

So back to the doggies: when they display remorse in circumstances that would be appropriate. Even when falsely accused they show this. So are they just trained to respond or are they feeling the remorse? When falsely accused sometimes we do come to believe we are bad, especially children who's reference is the parent for good and bad. Of course we can react in other ways, and sometimes dogs do as well. If we're trying to discover whether dogs are similar to humans we need to compare! If we're faced with the same difficulty with people of knowing the experience, only known by induction, we'd have to compare! To me, the question is, do humans act similarly?

Maybe another question is, what is the adaptive function of emotion? Much research shows it primes adaptive social and survival relevant behaviors like fight / flight / freeze. Packs of animals have the same adaptive pressures, and a triune brain much like our own. Darwin wrote _Emotion in Man and Animals_ about this very thing!

Clyde admits social companionship, but oddly denies social emotion! This seems oddly contradictory. Sociability is mediated in part through emotional exchange. We'd be oddly inconsistent to recognize the same patterns of behavior, the same neural structures, and deny the emotion of animals. Anthropomorphizing is always a danger, but using bears to deny the whale's gratitude, and ignoring the social care evidenced by mother bears to cubs is just not representing the data and spinning a non representative data set!

I feel sp lucky to have our animal human emotions. And to be able to share them with our animal companions. Maybe this feeling of connection is necessary to relate to our environment with a bit more empathy, seeing nature as a living breathing feeling thing needing consideration.

Thanks for another awesome episode, you guys rock.

Jan. 15 2010 07:58 PM
Paul Smaldino

Fantastic show, as usual. It made me want to re-read Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" - which is a great essay on coming to terms with inherent differences in inter- (and intra-) species perspectives.

I think this show says far more about the way the human mind works (including how we think about other minds) than about how animal minds work, which is fine by me.

Jan. 15 2010 06:57 PM

Kath makes some very good points. I completely agree that children would cower even if not guilty.

But one major question for me that has not been addressed in the dog study is whether the animals would have cowered at all if they had come from owners who had not punished them in the past, learned behavior, if you will. To say that dogs specifically feel “guilt” about their actions might be stretching things a bit. However, it seems that something more than simply natural submission is at work. There seem to be some emotions involved.

In many ways, dogs resemble our early selves, before we are completely culturally socialized and our empathy fine-tuned. We are born with some extent of natural empathy, but to fully develop it, we need to witness what sorts of behaviors upset those around us. Dogs seem to be in the stage we are as children. For example, we may not entirely understand why something we’ve done has upset our mother, but we can still feel some negative emotion for being the cause of her displeasure. We may not know why she becomes upset when we do something in particular, but seeing her emotional response, we learn that we do not want to do that again. And even before we are able to truly feel “guilt,” which implies some empathetic ability, we may still respond to scolding by cowering because we know that we have displeased our parent. Dogs probably do not immediately feel any remorse for chewing your favorite pair of shoes. But once they have heard your tone change, they can respond to it, becoming aware that one particular action caused this change. Perhaps they will not do it again, or more likely they will, but they will cower, remembering the response their behavior elicited last time. This could be out of fear, but I cannot see why it would not be an emotional response on the dog’s part. And even if it was fear, that is still an emotion, no matter how instinctual.

Jan. 15 2010 11:59 AM
Eddie Lin

Paul Theroux needs to chill. E.B. White's writing career and success was based upon talking a talking arachnid, pig, mice and all sorts of other animals. So what. More power to him.

He says, "The writing business should be unsparing." Who else says that? So basically Theroux frowns on any kind of anthropomorphized animal books? Dr. Seuss? Mother Goose?

Theroux also ridiculously states, "You're giving E.B. White too much license." What? Too much license? E.B. White didn't write science text books. Please, sir! What the world needs now is more talking animals and fewer curmudgeons.

Sorry, just had to rant.

Jan. 15 2010 03:59 AM

I am thinking about what gives the whale an understanding of the vastness of the ocean, its memories of danger and contact, and how its curiosity was propelled, making it analyze what was inherent to the elimination of the threat.

Jan. 15 2010 01:48 AM
Naga Nataka

I agree with previous commentators that Alexandra Horowitz's conclusions are shaky at best. All she has done is to establish a correlation between scolding and submissive behavior. How does this support or negate a hypothesis that such behavior may signify an emotional state of guilt? It seems that she has jumped to conclusions to support her own feelings on the subject.

Moreover, the experiment continues a tradition of cruelty toward animals in the name of gathering knowledge that has endured for too long. It may seem relatively harmless, but consider a similar experiment in which dogs would be beaten instead of scolded to study their reactions. Would we consider it acceptable? It seems to me only a few shades less violent, but violent nonetheless, to yell at a dog for something they haven't done to see how they'll react.

Consider that, instead of dogs, the experiment had used children. Their parents would be lied to and told the children had misbehaved. The parents would then yell at the children and accuse them of misbehaving to see what reaction it evoked. After the children cried and the data were collected, the parents would then be told of the ruse, and have to explain to their children that they had falsely accused them and yelled at them in the name of 'science'.

The entire experiment is based on the assumption that dogs are less sentient than children, and therefore less deserving of our respect. Can't we find a more intelligent and humane way of learning about ourselves and the world around us?

Jan. 14 2010 10:50 PM

Folks may be interested in this article in the New York Times Magazine this last summer.

Jan. 14 2010 07:24 PM

My daughter in college put me on to Radio Lab. I love it - it is now on my list of favorites. Great work!

Jan. 14 2010 06:19 PM

Hold on, The segment about the dogs reacting to a scolding whether or not they did something bad only proved that the dogs reacted in a like manner to a scolding.

Like Tim above, I had a dog that would act "guilty" before I even knew she had done something. The most obvious time I recall was when I came home from work and was greeted by a wagging tail, but a lowered head and eyes blinking. I had never seen any dog let alone this dog act like that.

When I went upstairs, I discovered a potted plant had been knocked over, and her odd greeting became clear.

I had only had this dog for a few months and never had scolded her. I also knew the previous owner was very gentle with the dog, so I don't expect she was anticipating a scolding. Even then, she was clearly not cowering.

It certainly wasn't a typical submissive gesture either. It was totally unique to anything I've seen a dog do before.

The dog clearly knew it had done something wrong, and was anticipating a reaction from me before I had any knowledge of what, let alone if, she had done something. Whether or not she actually felt or was displaying guilt, I'm hard pressed to interpret it in any other way.

Jan. 14 2010 06:18 PM

Thank you for a wonderful program.

I, too, have to join with the rest of the dog owners and say that my dogs always act different even before I find out they've done something they shouldn't have. I also have to say that I am sure they have a very wide spectrum of emotions and that they try to share those emotions among themselves and with me and my family. They also have very distinctive and different personalities that I cannot deny. I do not think they are humans with fur and four legs, but I do think (maybe it's just wishful thinking) that there is a real connection and communication between the two species.

this episode touched a lot the subject of emotions, which made me wish i could hear a radiolab episode dedicated just to the idea of emotions. why do we feel, and are emotions helping us in any way or just getting in the way?

Jan. 14 2010 05:45 PM

One again, the Masters have outdone themselves in this, the latest gem out of their treasure chest of audible bling. You are in for another treat with "Animal Minds". Sit down, relax, turn off the phone, listen.

Jan. 14 2010 03:44 PM

The Radiolab team is amazing. Thank you for keeping me company during my long commute to work (80mins each way). I only get to listen to your show on days that I drive alone (which is rare), but most times I am brought to tears. You are very powerful presenters.

Jan. 14 2010 03:19 PM

I'm with Tim. The dog "guilt" portion of the episode made it seem that dogs were just acting submissive and not necessarily feeling guilty, I thought of my mom's beagle who likes to get into trouble often. He's normally happy go lucky and when you come home he likes to greet you with tail wags and lots of deep bellowing barks, but when he does something bad while everyone is away, his demeanor is completely different as you walk into the house, his tail is between his legs and he won't look at you directly in the eye. This behavior alerts us that he did something wrong and that's when the search begins to find what he ate or destroyed. I would love a whole radiolab just dedicated to The Dog, they are so interesting especially in reference to their interactions with humans. I add lib for my dog all the time, since I obviously think I know what he's thinking, it be nice to hear a deep investigation into the fabulousness that makes a dog what he is but radiolab style :-)

thanks guys, keep up the awesome work and keep the shows coming, i can't get enough :-)

Jan. 14 2010 01:44 PM
Jonathan Hudgins

For more leopard seal photos from Paul Nicklen check out

I always love the story telling from radiolab. It seems to me there is a balance between anthropomorphizing and finding similar emotional traits. Birds have much smaller brains than mammals and it is our relative brain size that is most distinguishing feature of humans (our vocalization, opposing thumbs, and bi-pedalism are the others).

Jan. 14 2010 12:52 PM

Love listening - always fascinating!

One thing that immediately struck me when hearing the first dog story was how my dog reacts when she's been bad BEFORE I even yell at her. I can tell, almost always, when I come home and she's been bad because she acts completely differently than if she had done nothing wrong while I was gone.

Obviously I can't tell you what she's thinking, but it does seem (by her actions) like she clearly knows she's done something wrong and that I won't react favorably to it once I discover that.

Not sure what it means exactly, but I think it's worth considering when thinking about the experiment.

Jan. 14 2010 10:04 AM
Dan Warren

One thing that doesn't come up very often in discussions of animal consciousness is the principle of parsimony - the scientific principle that states that, all other things being equal, the simplest explanation that fits the evidence is the one that we should accept. In the context of evolutionary biology, we interpret this as implying that, absent other evidence, we should minimize the hypothesized number of changes needed to explain a trait. There are definitely problems with applying strict-sense parsimony to every situation, but as a general principle if we see similar phenotypes in two closely related organisms, we do not start from the assumption that those two phenotypes arose independently, nor that they are fundamentally different in kind.

As an evolutionary biologist, I see no reason why we should suddenly abandon this principle when we start talking about animal cognition or emotion. Granted there are differences between what animals perceive and how they need to interact with their environment that almost certainly mean that their perception of the world differs from our own to some extent. However, the evolutionary history that we share with these animals argues that our null expectation should NOT be that the way they experience the world is entirely different from ours. Obviously there are risks involved with anthropomorphizing too much, but if we see a behavior that strikes us as indicative of some emotion, in an animal who shares with us the evolutionary history and physiological mechanisms that produce that emotion in humans, it is simply not parsimonious to assume without further evidence that the experience of the animal is entirely dissimilar from our own. I know that a lot of scientists do this from an abundance of caution about the risks of anthropomorphizing, but from an evolutionary perspective it's difficult to justify at best. It's far more reasonable in my opinion to start from the assumption that there will be some commonalities due to common ancestry and function, and some differences due to the different requirements of each animal's life history, and to look at what those differences are.

Jan. 13 2010 10:36 PM

... I think that URL I pasted could possibly be one of the photos. It's exactly what I envisioned the description of the photo to be, anyway.

Jan. 13 2010 06:15 PM

Thomas; the point I was trying to make about the dog experiment was that a dog or a person can feel guilty when they're being scolded even when they know they've done nothing wrong, so the experiment doesn't really prove that the dogs aren't feeling guilty. Consider that the experiments probably are using well trained dogs, and dogs are trained to know that the human is in charge, and basically to obey human commands and that the human is always right; in that sense, they are left without room to argue even if they wanted to. What else is a good dog to do but say "you're right, I don't know what I did wrong, but I'm sorry" (or probably more simply in their heads "you're angry, I submit to your authority") when scolded?

And what exactly is the feeling of "guilt" anyways? I would say the fear of being reprimanded for something we've done is at least part of what guilt is, and plenty of dog owners can tell you that when they come home to find their couch chewed up or a puddle on the floor that the dog is hiding somewhere "looking guilty."

I would never say that their feelings of fear, guilt, regret, etc. are equivalent to or as complicated as our own. But do we need to invent a whole other language for the emotions they do experience when their body language is telling us they are experiencing similar emotions to our own?

To Ken looking for photos of the seal; Paul Nicklen has his own website, and more images of the specific story found here:

Jan. 13 2010 05:41 PM

Where can I see the leopard seal photos?

Jan. 13 2010 03:51 PM

Love the show, as always, and this one was very touching to a member of my species.
I also particularly enjoyed the transition music used for this episode. Who is?

Jan. 13 2010 03:20 PM
zac zeller

Right on! Great show. Keep it up guys.

Jan. 13 2010 02:38 PM
Kathy Orlinsky

My daughter and I have tried the pointing experiment with our dog. It works pretty well.

We saw a similar experiment on TV that compared dogs to wolves. First, they had to figure out how to pull a piece of meat out of a cage using a strip of cloth. Both did equally well.

Next, they were presented with meat that could not be removed from a cage. This time, the wolf worked at the cage until the keepers had to take it away because it was getting overly frustrated.

The dog, on the other hand, gave one or two attempts at the cage, then went and sat by the human. For the next couple of minutes, the dog looked pointedly at the cage, then at the human's face, then back at the cage.

At the risk of anthropomorphizing the event, it certainly seemed like the dog was thinking, "Hey buddy, a little help please?"

Jan. 13 2010 01:03 PM

Thanks for the catch. The link should be fixed now ... so go check out all those beautiful images.


Jan. 13 2010 11:48 AM

I loved the piece on the whale hugs.

Jan. 13 2010 11:38 AM

re Tim Maher
Tim, have you seen 'The Cove'?
Both Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson and dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry share similar life changing experiences
Also see Polar Obsession (National Geographic)

Jan. 13 2010 11:24 AM

The hyperlink for Paul Nicklen is really also for Paul Theroux.

Jan. 13 2010 07:50 AM
Martijn Rijven

First off, I'm a new listener to radio lab, and I absolutely love it... (and so say all of us, I guess).

For the point Clive Win (Wynn?) made about the 'demeaning' assumption that all animals are basically like humans the opposite could easily be argued. You could say humans are basically animals and when we (instinctively as animals maybe?) interpret an animal's behavior as showing gratitude, that's just what it is. We usually interpret fear and aggression in animals when we're faced with it pretty accurately in the same way.
I believe whales hang around the corpses of animals from their group that have died for quite some time too, elephants do the same. What would that be? Boredom? Stupidity? No it's mourning. What else would it be... conventional thinking about animal instinct would dictate it would just be on its way to survive another day...

Here's a good read on animal and human 'consciousness': Straw Dogs, by John Grey.

Jan. 13 2010 05:00 AM


The point they made w/ the dog experiment was that the emotion the dog felt probably wasn't guilt. They didn't rule out some emotion related to the submissive behavior. In fact I'm pretty sure submissive behavior correlates with an emotion motivating submissive behavior. Its a centrally important skill for dogs to display submission at times and emotions are evolutions most reliable way of producing reliable behavior so it stands to reason that there's emotion going on there. That emotions motivate behavior is probably true for all animals. People like Christoph Koch think that even honeybees might have consciousness and why have consciousness if not to be aware of feelings? So those doggies are surely feeling too.

Jan. 13 2010 01:06 AM

I'm with Kath and bob. People will bend over backwards to avoid attributing thoughts and emotional states to animals, giving up on Occam's razor.

Jan. 12 2010 07:37 PM

Excellent episode except that I think that the anti-anthropomorphic scientists had a bit to loud a voice. This view point was a reactionary school of thought (justified at the time) but my reading of the science is that we have moved on. For social animals, there is the inevitable convergence of key social memes such as gratitude. The only questions are whether it can result in cross species attempts at communication of these memes and whether the kinesics (since we have no common language) will be recognized.
I would argue, as would most post-anti-anthropomorphic observers, that extreme cases should not be dogmatically ignored. In the case of the whale, the idea that it was a case of disorientation completely ignores the very purposeful seeking out of all members of the team.

Jan. 12 2010 07:26 PM

Such a wonderful topic! This whole episode reminded me of a book I read a while back; When Elephants Weep, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, that talks about animal emotions. I'd recommend it to anyone who would like to delve more into these topics.

I would say though that the experiment on the "guilty" dogs is totally bogus. Consider that if you were to yell the same way at a small child, even if they had done nothing wrong, would they not also act submissive and look as if they were guilty? The fact that dog emotions do not correlate-exactly to human emotions does not mean that dogs don't have emotions; to deny animals emotions is to deny evolution!

Consider the other experiment with dogs that will look in the direction their owner is pointing; dogs who are trained well to not eat a treat will "steal" a treat when they know their owner isn't looking (such as when a bucket is placed over the owners head). Dogs have been bred to be easily conditioned to our ways of life. (And the other question I would have on that note would be; can chimps who *were* bottle-fed & raised with humans look in the direction a human is pointing?)

Our emotional lives are responses to the chemicals within our brains and bodies, and so emotions too must have evolved with the rest of us. Animals only lack the ability to communicate emotions the same way we communicate them and *that* is where we must be careful when we attempt to interpret their emotions. But that's really not much different than interpreting body language and gestures from one culture to another. We cannot forget though that at one time, not too long ago, people who did have trouble communicating (those who were deaf, autistic, mentally disabled etc.) were denied the idea that they had emotions simply because it was difficult for them to communicate those emotions to the rest of us.

I also had to laugh at the story about the geese; anyone who has a pet bird can tell you that they're cantankerous little buggers. They have their own personality, and I believe they express affection in their own way. Especially with birds, since they are such social creatures, it's almost like they have their own culture with their own rules of society.
And the question I'd have about Paul Nicklen's seal would be; how much do we know about leopard seal mating behavior? Was the seal trying to care for him or trying to approach him as a mate? Perhaps she fell in love with him just as much as he with her? Of course this leads us to ask; what is love? An emotion, an action, or a chemical response in our brains?

Jan. 12 2010 04:26 PM

I love radiolab and I'm delighted to see a new episode! But why is the episode dated April 2, 2010 when I can have it today? This happened with the last couple as well. I'm just confused about the timeline.

Jan. 12 2010 04:19 PM
Tim Maher

This RadioLab episode touches on the same idea of a news article I read a few days ago:

"Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons"

"Scientists studying dolphin behavior have suggested they could be the most intelligent creatures on Earth after humans...The behavioral studies showed dolphins (especially the bottlenose) have distinct personalities and self-awareness, and they can think about the future. The research also confirmed dolphins have complex social structures, with individuals co-operating to solve difficult problems or to round up shoals of fish to eat, and with new behaviors being passed from one dolphin to another."

Jan. 12 2010 03:29 PM
Fernando Rosales

Beautiful episode. I'm glad you decided to end it the way you did. :)

Jan. 12 2010 05:02 AM

i heart radiolab!

Jan. 12 2010 04:01 AM

Hoorah for Radiolab!
This sounds like a thoroughly interesting topic which I am about to listen to.

Jan. 12 2010 12:22 AM

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