Skip to content

Animal emotion: Descriptive and prescriptive definitions and their implications for a comparative perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-209
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Early online date31 Jan 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 21 Jan 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2018


In recent years there has been a growing research interest in the field of animal emotion. But there is still little agreement about whether and how the word “emotion” should be defined for use in the context of non-human species. Here, we make a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive definitions. Descriptive definitions delineate the ways in which the word emotion is used in everyday life. Prescriptive definitions are used to pick out the set of events that scientific theories of emotion purport to explain. Picking out three prescriptive definitions, we show that the different ways in which emotions are defined correspond to processes that are distributed differentially across the animal kingdom. We propose that these definitions provide a useful starting point for investigating the varying emotional capacities of a wide range of animals, providing a basis for a new, comparative science of emotion.

    Research areas

  • Affect, Animal behaviour, Animal emotion, Consciousness, Definition, Emotion

Download statistics

No data available



  • Full-text PDF (final published version)

    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via Elsevier at . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Proof, 266 KB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY


View research connections

Related faculties, schools or groups