De scriptie “Feit of Fabel. De bruikbaarheid van anekdotes en antropomorfisme bij het wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar emoties bij dieren” heb ik in 2005 afgerond. Het betekende tevens de afronding van mijn studie Cognitieve Psychologie aan de Universiteit van Leiden. Hieronder volgt een samenvatting van de scriptie. Indien u de gehele tekst wil inzien, kunt u natuurlijk contact met mij opnemen.
Charles Darwin was among the first scientists to give serious attention to the question of
animal emotions. However, the rise of behaviorism and the still lingering influence of René
Descartes again placed emotions and their interpretations outside scientific reach. Today, the
situation is different, because behaviorism has been replaced by much more cognitive based
theories. The interest in consciousness and other cognitive processes is growing but
descriptions of subjective experiences seem to be avoided. It is not so much that scientists do
not believe that animals experience emotions (although some still do), but rather that
scientific study and writing have to conform to certain standards. Objective observations,
technical terms, and replication of results are the norm. But these conventions turn out not to
be infallible. Also, more and more scientists are of the opinion that it is possible to combine
research into animal emotions with traditional scientific methods. Such a combination does
not have to be unscientific.
The greatest obstacle to the investigation of other animals’ emotions has been an
extreme desire to avoid anthropomorphism, the attribution of human traits to nonhuman
animals (Bekoff, 2000). Anthropomorphism and anecdotes are considered to be based on soft
science, common sense, and folk-psychology. Because science demands a neutral and
objective language, stories about animal emotions are not taken seriously. Also, people who
use anthropomorphic descriptions are often being accused of trying to make animals look
more similar to us than they really might be. However, evolutionary, neurobiological and
functional data show us not only that emotions are very important, but also that we do have a
lot in common with other animals. This does not mean their feelings have to be identical to
ours. Through a critical use of anthropomorphism we can make the worlds of other animals
accessible to us. We must not see anthropomorphism as an end in itself but rather as a means
to create a trustful picture of their emotional lives; we can use it as a heuristic tool. The same
can be said for anecdotes. When they are well structured, detailed and reliable, they can be
used to stimulate further empirical research and make for better science.
The finding that science is not value-free and that it has to allow for other forms of
data has consequences for the way animals are treated in, for instance, experiments. There is a
growing awareness of the moral obligations we have to other animals, because it is no longer
inconceivable that animals might have the capacity to experience intense emotions and
because it is no longer impossible to investigate that emotional world.