New York Times best-selling author and primatologist Frans de Waal explores the fascinating world of animal and human emotions.Frans de Waal has spent four decades at the forefront of animal research. Following up on the best-selling Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which investigated animal intelligence, Mama’s Last Hug delivers a fascinating...
|Title||:||Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves|
|Author||:||Frans de Waal|
Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves Reviews
I recently went to the zoo at the behest of a friend of mine (I hadn’t been to a proper zoo since I was a child) and was reminded why I hadn’t been in such a long time. Animals in small enclosures, appearing listless with nothing to stimulate them, was for me the opposite of entertaining. It was profoundly moving but not perhaps in the sense that my acquaintance might have wished. Particularly disturbing to me was seeing the macaques, gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates. When my friend
I recently went to the zoo at the behest of a friend of mine (I hadn’t been to a proper zoo since I was a child) and was reminded why I hadn’t been in such a long time. Animals in small enclosures, appearing listless with nothing to stimulate them, was for me the opposite of entertaining. It was profoundly moving but not perhaps in the sense that my acquaintance might have wished. Particularly disturbing to me was seeing the macaques, gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates. When my friend sensed that I was not happy to see them despite my love of bonobos and chimpanzees in particular, I explained how sad it was to see these profoundly social animals with intricate friendship and family bonds be isolated by themselves in a small cage.
In “Mama’s Last Hug”, Frans De Waal doesn’t go deeply into how zoos are problematic (he does briefly touch on it) but he does ask and defend the question as to whether primates in particular are capable of emotions. If you’ve read De Waal before you are probably familiar with his answer but here he uses his and others research as well as entertaining and fascinating anecdotes to answer that he believes they do.
He gives wonderful examples of a wide variety of facial expressions that correlate with our own (our facial structures are remarkably similar), how primates feel and show shame, bargain amongst themselves and others (he cites macaques at a temple of Bali who often steal particular items such as cell phones from tourists. Rather than run away with them, the monkeys sit a safe distance away until the tourists hands over a sufficient amount of food, at which point the monkey will put down the valuables and walk away with its bounty).
In his perhaps most touching story, De Waal recounts the story of Mama, a female chimp who was the alpha female for decades at the colony De Waal supervised in Holland. As she became sick and near death, one of the staff members who had been with her for years went into her cage to say goodbye (a quite dangerous thing to do and one that he freely admitted later he would never do with any other chimp). Mama on seeing and clearly remembering their relationship over the years, gave him a long hug as if to say goodbye that can been seen on Youtube (highly recommended you have some kleenex handy).
Was she aware of her impending death? Maybe. Maybe not. But even the most hardened cynic would have to admit that there was at a bare minimum recognition on her part and more likely warmth that we as humans like to assign solely to ourselves.
Why do so many scientists still refuse to acknowledge that beings other than humans are capable of complex emotions?
Is it that it would complicate experimentation on them? Make eating them extremely problematic?
We do not know for sure. De Waal writes we cannot ask animals directly what they are feeling. This is undoubtedly true. And yet through simple observation it is increasingly difficult to deny they are feeling something intensely recognizable and universal to all living beings.
Frans de Waal’s latest book,
, is a survey of various emotions — what they are, when they arise, and how they are identified — in both animals and humans. Each chapter covers a different set of emotions or concepts related to them, such as emotional intelligence and sentience, described with a plentiful assortment of de Waal’s firsthand anecdotes from his decades studying primates as well as summaries of other scientific publications. In short, he
Frans de Waal’s latest book,
, is a survey of various emotions — what they are, when they arise, and how they are identified — in both animals and humans. Each chapter covers a different set of emotions or concepts related to them, such as emotional intelligence and sentience, described with a plentiful assortment of de Waal’s firsthand anecdotes from his decades studying primates as well as summaries of other scientific publications. In short, he asserts (and with much credible evidence) that not only do animals have rich emotional lives, but they very much parallel that of humans.
Anyone who has a pet at home perhaps will shrug at why this is such a big deal. Like other people who own pets, I’m no stranger to describing the behavior of my cats in emotional terms: they become
when my suitcases come out and they know I’m going to be gone for a while; when I come home from work or a trip they’re
to see me; they get
when their food or water dish has been empty too long; etc. This is just what the average person tends to do, and we don’t think twice about it. The thing is, scientific reasoning has discredited this for ages as anthropomorphism (and the topic gets a nice overview early on in
), which has long been the “silly foolish thing” humans do that’s just plain nonsense. As Frans de Waal and other scientists have worked hard to prove over the years this is actually not the case. Hard, irrefutable, scientific evidence is now coming out to show that we humans are not on a magnificent pedestal above the rest of the animal kingdom after all. Advances in neuroscience and a growing awareness of and accounting for once-ignored variables in experimental data (like social animals being tested in isolation versus in a social environment, or the very distinct differences in rat behavior when lab technicians are male or female) have only shown that we humans are far more
to the rest of the animals than we are dissimilar. Turns out, we humans aren’t actually bad at correctly assessing the emotional states of animals, either.
Personally, I devoured this book as quickly as I could. I’ve highlighted so many passages, and discussed the stories and conclusions with anyone that will listen. I’ve always been endlessly fascinated with where scientists are going with their studies of emotions, and usually find myself skimming some psychology publications just for fun. In fact, I even participated in research myself — partly to see how experiments were run, partly to get a free MRI of my brain (why not?). But I always come away from it all a bit perplexed by the over-reliance on linguistics. A brain scan and one’s body language/facial expressions will always depict what one’s emotions are regardless of what they may say to the contrary. Furthermore, humans simply have a tendency to not understand their own emotions, or at the very least struggle to communicate them in a way that’s fully understood from one person to the next, if they aren’t outright lying about what their emotions are. Language is an abstraction over the more complicated mess contained within. Sure, I can tell you something made me “sad” with my fancy human language skills, but do you really know what I experience if you can’t see my expressions or behavior?
has made me think rather deeply about what really does differentiate us from the other animals on our planet. I’ve never questioned if animals are actually clever, or if they have emotions (and by extension feelings), but I didn’t quite realize just how tremendously much we share until finishing this book. When I look at my species, I see our differences from the other species on this planet in our artistic works and creative endeavors. But in uniquely human traits, I also see a dark side: an endless appetite for destruction and a capacity for doubting, questioning, and ultimately ignoring our own emotions as if they were somehow not an intricate part of us. The capability for empathy and self-sacrifice isn’t uniquely human; instead, it is a life-preserving tendency shared amongst most if not all animals. There is life-giving, life-preserving wisdom in what we’ve long considered primitive or basic, and it stares right back at us when we slow down long enough to really see our animal cousins and what they innately know and do that we so readily resist.
I couldn’t recommend
by Frans de Waal enough. From the wonderful stories of observed animal emotions, to the thoughtfulness spurred regarding how we treat animals and how we think about ourselves, there’s a lot of to be gained from reading this book. It was delightful to read and I am looking forward to reading Frans de Waal’s prior works as well!
*** I received an advance reading copy from the publisher, W. W. Norton ***
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. What a wonderful book! I enjoyed it and would highly recommend it!
- image from Utrechtse Bilologen Vereniging
Jan van Hoof was two months shy of eighty years old and Mama was one month shy of fifty nine when they said their goodbyes. They had known each other for forty years. She’d been sleeping a lot, had lost considerable weight, which was not surprising for one of the world’s oldest zoo chimpanzees, but she finally wakes up, spots Jan, and beams with a smile far wider than any human could produce. She bleats out a high-pitched call of greeting while reaching up for Jan’s head, pats the back of his neck and strokes his hair, pulling him closer. It is a moving moment that most of us might struggle to get through without releasing at least one or two tears of recognition. And why not? There are many more ties that bind us than there are those that divide us. And with this tearful scene we are delivered to a key question. Just how different are humans from apes, from animals, in terms of our emotional lives?
- image from Royal Burgers Zoo
In 1980, the Dutch-born author learned that a favorite chimpanzee alpha had been murdered by two male rivals in the colony. It became a life-changing event for him. He was about to move to the USA and continue his study of apes, but he realized that there was far too much that was not known about the roles of cooperation, reconciliation, pro-social behavior, and fairness in the animals’ relationships. He redirected his life studies toward gaining a better understanding of such long-neglected areas of animal behavioral research.
- image from wikipedia
Franciscus Bernardus Maria "Frans" de Waal is now a world-renowned primatologist and social psychologist who has broken much new ground in our understanding of animal psychology and emotion. Competition was always studied in his field, but de Waal was the first to establish intentional deception, conflict resolution, and a non-human basis for empathy and morality. A serious scientist, whose popular writing has brought his theories to a wide readership, his list of awards and recognitions would fill the page. His most recent book is
Hopefully, enough of us are. The question here is whether we are perceptive enough to be able to recognize and appreciate animal emotions.
Mama, the long-time matriarch of the Burgers Zoo chimpanzee colony, with her daughter Moniek. At the time of this photo Mama was at the height of her power – Image and text from the book
This is not a book about Mama, although her story does illustrate de Waal’s point. Many researchers appear to have an irresistible impulse to portray animals as entirely separate from people. De Waal is interested in showing us that there is far less difference than human exceptionalists would like to think.
There have been many lines scientists have drawn that supposedly separate humans from animals, that separate us from our biological roots. Once it was claimed that humans are different because we use tools. That lasted until researchers discovered that diverse sorts of creatures also use tools. Brain size? Number of neurons? Nope, nope. More recently, a difference-maker has been claimed in our experiencing of emotions, portraying animals as virtually mechanical. Anyone with cats, dogs, or most other sorts of pets can assure you that our companion animals do indeed have emotions. As do, apparently other animals as well. Now there is research to back up what is obvious to many of us.
- Image by Jutta Hof – taken from de Waal’s FB
And if we are not so different, then what might be our common roots? How did our emotions, and how we behave come to be? And by
I am not limiting that to people. The work portrayed here raises many questions, about the origin of some characteristics of human beings, about animals having a sense of time, about the nutritional needs of hunter-gatherers, the role of neuron-count in consciousness, a definition of consciousness, the role of individualism and socialization in species survival, the impact of affection in early life on development, [ok, take a breath]
Orangutan mother holding juvenile - image by Max Block – taken from de Waal’s FB
[Rested now? Ok, back to it]…whether humans are alone in having free will, the impact of increasing inequality on longevity. Is there a human instinct for war? Do animals laugh or smile? Can animals commit murder? What is the relationship between intellect and emotion? What does it mean to be an alpha male? And where did our notion of that term originate? What is the relationship between emotions and free will? The difference between feelings and emotions? I could go on, but you get the picture.
- image by Jutta Hof – taken from de Waal’s FB
There is an entire chapter on smiling and laughter, (yes, they do) which is a real revelation regarding what the source of humor might be.
What has been learned from the lessons discussed here can be used to improve not only how we treat animals that are housed in zoos, and used in research, but in how livestock can be treated more humanely, reinforcing the work of researchers in this field, such
- image by Jutta Maue Kay – taken from de Waal’s FB
De Waal is a first-rate writer, bringing to his books an engaging style, and an ability to make complex subjects accessible to the average reader. He even exposes, on occasion, a sense of humor, which is always welcome in popular science writing. De Waal makes a strong case that our emotions not only do not separate us from other beings, but show our deep connection to them. He shows how emotions+intellect is a formula that has been very successful for the survival of many species, and offers a far more flexible approach to solving new problems than rigid instinctual responses ever could. He gives us good reason to recognize our shared inheritance, our fellowship and sisterhood with a vast array of earth’s creatures, and in so doing, offers us tools to better understand our behavior as a species, and the behavior of non-human living things all around us. It is an intellectual whirlwind, with many new ideas flying around. Plenty there to grab and inspect.
should be the beginning of a new widespread appreciation for our own social, emotional and psychological roots, and empathy for the experience of others. Embrace it.
Gorillas live in family groups with a dominant silverback male and several females and offspring. Gorilla dads sometimes groom and play with their infants, even stepping in as surrogate mothers if need be. – image by Diane Fossey – taken from de Waal’s FB
Review posted – March 8, 2019
Publication date – March 12, 2019
November 28, 2019 -
is named to the NY Times list of
December 2019 -
is named one of Amazon 's
which it absolutely is
-----he is head of
- There are many informative articles, including interviews with de Waal, linked on the Publications Page – Definitely a rabbit hole worth exploring
-----TED Talk -
-----another TED Talk -
-----March 9, 2019 - NY Times -
-----An excerpt from the book -
- by Charles Darwin – on Gutenberg
-----Royal Burgers’ Zoo page
-----my review of
- a very different sort of ape-related book
Educational, entertaining, enlightening, evidentiary. de Waal is devoted to his subject both intellectually and emotionally, and once you've read the book, you might believe (as I do) that that's the same fidelity. It took me all of the book to grasp that emotions are not feelings, and it's taken the behaviorist, psychologist, biologist schools decades to sort it as well. We (and this we perhaps has an arrow pointed at American studies for the perpetuation of this misconception) accept that
Educational, entertaining, enlightening, evidentiary. de Waal is devoted to his subject both intellectually and emotionally, and once you've read the book, you might believe (as I do) that that's the same fidelity. It took me all of the book to grasp that emotions are not feelings, and it's taken the behaviorist, psychologist, biologist schools decades to sort it as well. We (and this we perhaps has an arrow pointed at American studies for the perpetuation of this misconception) accept that animals are lower on the evolutionary ladder than the venerated us. Humans talk. And talk and talk. Other sentient beings don't. Not to us, which disqualifies them from apex status. But then we aren't all that great at observing without being told what to see. For this reason alone, I've never been sure that homo sapiens earned its pedestal-topping roost. Fierce listening, as my friend says, is what we need more. Observation and listening are conjacent.
de Waal sorts sentience into tiers, and you will be fascinated by the way he sticks this knowledge so you won't soon forget. All the old saws about the reasons animals are so far below us don't hold water. Or air either. Do orangutans plan ahead? Are chimpanzees empathetic? Do dolphins remember? Does a rat like being tickled? Does a community of primates understand death? How do battling chimps achieve accord? Do alpha females seek revenge?
The answers are all here for those who wish to observe and listen. This is a joyful book. I wish you as pleasant an experience.
Frans DeWaal is a primatologist who has studied animal emotions for decades. This fascinating book explores the rich emotional lives of animals. Relating observations and laboratory experiments we are told of emotions found not only in primates, but rats, moles, and fish. Due to a lack of language in these groups (at least a language humans understand), science has been skeptical about the existence of emotions. They can't tell us when they are sad, joyful, envious. They, unlike humans, cannot
Frans DeWaal is a primatologist who has studied animal emotions for decades. This fascinating book explores the rich emotional lives of animals. Relating observations and laboratory experiments we are told of emotions found not only in primates, but rats, moles, and fish. Due to a lack of language in these groups (at least a language humans understand), science has been skeptical about the existence of emotions. They can't tell us when they are sad, joyful, envious. They, unlike humans, cannot lie about what they are experiencing. De Waal also believes that reluctance to accept their emotions may stem from an unwillingness to grant complex emotions to lower life forms. After all, isn't that what makes us superior? Thankfully, science is changing and that will trickle down to the general public. We should respect all life. We should care about their habitats and their handling and quality of life if used for consumption. Some progress is being made, but we have a long way still to go.
DeWaal is not just extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, but he is an engaging writer. I highly recommend this book.
"We tend to underestimate the emotions that organize our lives and institutions, but they are at the core of everything we do and are. The desire to control others is a driving force behind many social processes and imposes structure on primate societies. From Trump and Clinton's quest to lead the nation to bonobo mothers who come to blows over their sons, the power motive is pervasive and plain to see. It has led to some of our highest achievements under inspiring leaders, but it also has a disturbing track record of violence, including the political assassinations to which our own species is no stranger.
Emotions can be good, bad, and ugly, which is as true for animals as it is for us."
Its interesting, if one gets a score of over 90 percent or even, lets just say, hm 99,8 percent, the person would say that this is close to absolute. No matter if it is a test, a comparison or whatever. But as soon as it goes like "You know, those missing 1,2 percent are the difference between you and a sh$§trhowing chimpanzee, the person goes like WTF and so on. So, as I always say, we are naked apes and each emotional and brain reaction that is explored in monkeys gives deep insights into our
It´s interesting, if one gets a score of over 90 percent or even, let´s just say, hm 99,8 percent, the person would say that this is close to absolute. No matter if it is a test, a comparison or whatever. But as soon as it goes like "You know, those missing 1,2 percent are the difference between you and a sh$§trhowing chimpanzee, the person goes like WTF and so on. So, as I always say, we are naked apes and each emotional and brain reaction that is explored in monkeys gives deep insights into our collective and individual nature. The knowledge could lead to a better social design from international organizations to small villages with just a hand full of houses.
Checklists are great, so let´s put monkeys vs humans on a kind of partner finding match list with the same interest. Violent without reason against the own people which harms the whole society? Check. Manipulate and lie around anything that comes just a mile close so some sexy time? Done. The tendency to despotism, genocide and determination wars? Getting closer to a full match. Same emotional reactions concerning love, fear, hate, etc? Got it, monkey owned. Excuse me, but could someone please explain the difference to me again? I mean, even the throwing sh$3 thing seems to be matching, be it verbally or in some rare cases, ahem.
Both the neurological and social development are so closely related that the functioning systems kept growing inside our heads and got probably a little bit modified regarding impulse control, subtleness and intelligence, but nature didn´t change much in this running system. Take away food, shelter and punishment and we are again where we were millions of years ago, extremely dangerous group raiders with an integrated attitude to madness. This is especially funny, because there are no lesser intelligent animals, especially biological very similar mammals, that have the same rate of lunatics that naturally occur because something like a human brain can´t be constructed or civilized without some damage. When there are millions of rabbits, deer, mice or cows, their behavioral anomalies are so few compared to when one puts a few million people together in one place.
One implication is, that like bonobos and chimpanzees, human society has different attitudes depending on the social structure. And as both humans and monkeys keep evolving, many new variants may grow out of the few concepts with the main difference that humans could form an environment for many experiments and plentiful family and social structures instead of the few monocultures we see today. With each acceptable ideology, that doesn´t include harming, discriminating or erasing other groups, many experiments would be possible with volunteer groups of environmentalists, futurists, etc. that want to try out something new. How to prevent them from going the way of sects and extremists might be a tricky topic, but at least the indoctrinated way of how to live would fall apart.
A huge misuse of anthropomorphism has been the tendency to think that we great humans should project our superior properties onto other, "lower" animals instead of considering that it might be that many animals are much smarter, complex and emotional than we thought or wanted to think. Just because human communication got overcomplicated with language, mimics and stuff that doesn´t mean that communications that are based on smell, varying sounds or just hormones aren´t as good, effective and a sign of higher intelligence instead of just instincts, as thought for a long time. With the help of neuroscience and biological markers, the truth can be shown. Tragically, the bad and wrong science of the past was used to discriminate animals and other humans that were both deemed inferior.
The work is primarily focused on apes, but let´s think about other animals, for instance, pigs, cows and chicken or, if they are on the dinner table and the imagination is too irritating, dolphins, octopi, crows, well, anything that has the intelligence and/ or social life to feel. And here comes the cornucopia of ethical, philosophical and sociological questions regarding both our connection to and behavior regarding many animals. Let´s say a scientist would find out or has already found out a long time ago that especially the tortured animals in the meat factories have not just more complex feelings and higher intelligence than supposed but understand the whole context of their situation at each moment.
The work of this outstanding author should be read and spread by everybody, because it opens new, interdisciplinary fields of both natural sciences and humanities and leads to a better understanding of both real and human nature and could help to stop repeating the construction errors and behaving like aggressive alpha males after a few million years of a wild, human adolescence and become adult and wise instead.
Finally, let´s try a self-test that is prooving all theories right. Look, I made this funny, for the sake of your mental sanity censored, list of emotions that would completely control me with full intensity if I wouldn´t be such a highly developed, smart super-duper alpha predator (meditation and mindfulness really help a tiny little bit): bored, stressed, happy, hungry, evil, scared, tired, excited, hungry again, dishonest, sensitive,...
A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real-life outside books:
Animal emotions. Human emotions. Can they, in any way share commanalties? The author makes a convincing and illuminating arguement, that yes they can, and they can also tell us much about ourselves. He shares the relationship between various chimp behaviors, the emotions they have and how they are shown in various situations. While most of the book cover this group, their are also sections on birds, horses and even comparisons of human behavior, notably Trump and Spicer, that directly correlates
Animal emotions. Human emotions. Can they, in any way share commanalties? The author makes a convincing and illuminating arguement, that yes they can, and they can also tell us much about ourselves. He shares the relationship between various chimp behaviors, the emotions they have and how they are shown in various situations. While most of the book cover this group, their are also sections on birds, horses and even comparisons of human behavior, notably Trump and Spicer, that directly correlates to the animal world.
My favorite parts were the Bonobos, who he calls the hippies of the chimp world. They would rather make love, not war. Plus, a rarity in that it is a female who has the most power. Also enjoyed the bits of humor scattered throughout, such as when the author notes, that chimps are very familiar with each other's derrieres. Parts are sad, such as Mama's passing, but it is also informative and enjoyable. Our human makeup, emotionally, so closely tied to many other animals should make us kinder to those animals who share our environment, or so I hope. Understanding should bring kindness and empathy, which by the way are other emotions we share.
Good book, wonderful delivery and I enjoyed the narrator L. J. Ganser.
Early ethologists studied animal behavior to understand a shared motivation. Their experimental setup was elegant and objective, but the underlying motivation for animal behavior was ignored. For example, fear and anger, and the animal reactions to it were carefully examined and conclusions were drawn. The prevailing assumption in these studies were that animals had instincts that gave inborn actions triggered by a situation. Behavioral biologists have changed this approach
Early ethologists studied animal behavior to understand a shared motivation. Their experimental setup was elegant and objective, but the underlying motivation for animal behavior was ignored. For example, fear and anger, and the animal reactions to it were carefully examined and conclusions were drawn. The prevailing assumption in these studies were that animals had instincts that gave inborn actions triggered by a situation. Behavioral biologists have changed this approach because the instincts are inflexible, and they have started to look from the point of emotions which allow flexibility. They prime body and mind, but do not dictate any specific course of actions. Emotions are neither invisible nor impossible to study; they can be measured. Levels of biomolecules associated with emotional experiences, from the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin to the stress hormone cortisol, can easily be determined. The hormones are virtually identical across the board; from humans to birds to invertebrates.
The artificial intelligence (AI) recognize the importance of emotions. AI with emotions would interact with humans with empathy and human-like emotions, and hopefully do not destroy mankind when they become too powerful. It is expected to facilitate engagement and working together for common good.
In this book, the author, a well-known primatologist proposes that animals experience emotions in the same way as humans do. Emotions infuse everything that inspire cognition and drives all animals and humans. By examining emotions, this book puts these vivid of mental experiences in evolutionary context, revealing how their richness, power and utility stretch across species and back into the history of animal kingdom.
An engaging examination of primate emotions (though, de Waal carefully distinguishes these from feelings) and social constructs and what they teach us about human emotions and interactions. Every now and then it seems his analogies oversimplify human reactions (ex. he compared Bonobo female reproductive jealousy to the majority of women who chose Obama over the McCain/Palin ticket, which of course disregards the many, MANY other reasons that a woman might choose to support Obama over Palin, and
An engaging examination of primate emotions (though, de Waal carefully distinguishes these from feelings) and social constructs and what they teach us about human emotions and interactions. Every now and then it seems his analogies oversimplify human reactions (ex. he compared Bonobo female reproductive jealousy to the majority of women who chose Obama over the McCain/Palin ticket, which of course disregards the many, MANY other reasons that a woman might choose to support Obama over Palin, and fails to account for the broad female support of other young female politicians like AOC and Ayanna Pressley). I suppose these analogies are meant to be illustrative and not intended to be sole reason a person reacts the way they do, but that one especially was off putting.