Feb 26, 2019

Animal Wise

the Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures
by Virginia Morell

This book is about scientific studies done to investigate the intelligence and thought processes of various animals. The basis of the idea that animals could be proven to have emotions was scientific discovery of the same chemicals and structures in the brains of animals, that are present in humans- and both activated during the same emotional stress. For the detailed studies cited in the book, the author travelled to different labs and study sites around the world. I found them all pretty intriguing, and in every case I would have gladly read an entire book about it:

Minuscule ants whose entire colonies can live in a petri dish teach their fellow ants where to find a new resource (they don't just blindly follow a chemical trail). Archerfish prove they make deft, precise calculations- and learn by example. Alex the parrot defines colors and shapes, and practices the sounds of new words he's learning. South American parrotlets have individual contact calls- they have names for each other- which are maybe assigned by their parents. Rats laugh when they are tickled, and solicit more fun if you stop. Elephants remember family members they have lost- they have a strong need for social structure and appear to suffer the equivalent of post-traumatic stress when witnessing the sudden, violent death of other elephants. Dolphins recognize themselves in a mirror, and their lives in the sea are not at all peaceful. The last two chapters which compared very closely related animals performing the same kinds of intelligence tests- gorillas and chimpanzees, then wolves and dogs- were very interesting. The apes were doing memory exercises on a touch-screen computer; the dogs and wolves (young ones raised by humans) were participating in a study looking into how they respond to social cues given by humans. It was pretty striking, the difference in behavior between the young wolves and the dogs.

I'm just touching the surface here- there are so many more details in this book- from how the scientists came up with their theories, how they figured out and executed the experiments, what further ideas they have to investigate, and many anecdotal stories of animals demonstrating their smarts and empathy as well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5                   291 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Rhapsody in Books
At Home with Books


  1. I love animals and always wonder about their thought processes so think this sounds wonderful.

  2. Oh this sounds like a good one!

  3. It is! I hope you both might read it someday.


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