Questions for “Science is just starting to understand what animals feel”

photo of two huskies who appear to be smiling

These dogs look really happy. But people often misjudge cues about what emotions animals are feeling.

Ilka & Franz/Stone/Getty Images

To accompany feature “Science is just starting to understand what animals feel


Before Reading:

1. Do you think animals have feelings similar to people’s feelings? Why or why not?

2. If you see a cat stretching in a patch of sunlight and blinking slowly, how might you think it feels? What about a dog that has its tail down and teeth bared as it growls? Drawing on these examples, what are some general ways that animals communicate how they may feel?

During Reading:

1.  According to Martine Hausberger, what is a common misunderstanding people have about horses playing? What does she suggest is a better interpretation of that behavior?

2.  Why does Charlotte Burn say that researching animal feelings “is a bit strange”?

3.  How is overall emotional well-being different from one’s feelings? List five ways researchers can measure an animal’s well-being.

4.  What did Hausberger’s group measure in horses? How did the team use information from research in people to relate these findings to horse welfare?

5.  What was novel about Charles Darwin’s ideas about animal feelings? What example does the story give?

6.  What is affect? What things can it shape? By what things can affect be shaped?

7.  In Michael Mendl’s experiments, how did the environment of rats affect how they responded to a neutral tone?

8.  How are researchers using artificial intelligence to study animal emotions?

9.  In Robyn Crook’s work with octopuses, what outcome suggested that the animals could feel pain? What outcome suggested that the animals could feel relief from pain?

10.  What is sentience? How are scientists using this concept to assess how animals are treated?

After Reading:

1.  Based on what you’ve read in this story, do you think we can ever know what an animal is feeling? Why or why not? Use evidence or examples from the story to support your answer.

2.  Do you think it is ethical to study pain in animals? Do potentially beneficial outcomes from such research — such as setting new animal-welfare laws or developing a pain-relieving medication — justify research that knowingly inflicts pain on animals? Explain why or why not.