Picks and Pans Review: When Elephants Weep

updated 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/03/1995 01:00AM

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy

Any pet lover will tell you that animals have emotions—the dog jumping for joy at the prospect of a walk, the kitten purring with contentment after a cuddle. But talk to scientists, even those who devote their lives to animal study, say the authors of this book, and you're likely to hear a very different story. To avoid charges of anthropomorphism, researchers scrupulously focus on cognition rather than emotion, on observable behavior instead of the mental state behind it. Taken to extremes, this viewpoint regards Fido not as a fellow creature but as what evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins dubbed a robot survival machine. And if animals are little more than automatons upholstered in fur, humans needn't feel guilty about using—or abusing—them.

But that's a big if, contends Masson, a controversial former psychotherapist and author, and his science-writer collaborator. In this impassioned volume they argue their case with intriguing examples culled from scientific literature. We meet a mother giraffe putting herself between a lion and her calf, a circus elephant who cries when punished, gorillas "singing" with happiness, a horse who wastes away after her stablemate's death, and more.

Unfortunately for the authors, most of the examples in their thesis are open to more than one interpretation. Still, the book is valuable. In addition to offering a fascinating array of animals, it convincingly argues that their emotional life is an area worthy of scientific exploration. (Delacorte, $23.95)

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