A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Do Bees Have Emotions?

Evidence shows they exhibit optimism and pessimism

It’s been well-documented by now that many, if not most, non-human animals are capable of complex emotions.
A new study, published in Current Biology, shows that honeybees are also among those who clearly manifest emotions.

One of the classic ways of demonstrating emotion in animals is to watch for signs of pessimism by setting up a test in which animals associate one stimulus (a sound or a shape or a smell) with a positive experience and another with a negative experience. Then, when the animals are given a third stimulus, the researchers watch to see whether they’ll take the risk of trying it out.

When we humans, for example, are depressed, we tend to associate a neutral expression on another person’s face as being hostile. We’re assuming the worst, and that’s pessimism at work.

Optimism and pessimism are complex emotions that signify a well-developed inner life. Dogs and rats have been shown to be fully capable of pessimism. Now honeybees join the roster of those who show the same ability.

You can read about the test at Wired magazine.

NOTE: What’s really proved by experiments like these, however, is that we shouldn’t be doing these kinds of experiments in the first place. What’s demonstrated, over and over, is that all animals have emotional lives, that they’re capable of pleasure and pain, and that we should therefore let them live those lives rather than subjecting them to experiments and other kinds of exploitation.

The truly valid outcome from this latest experiment would be to conclude that the way we treat honeybees today, through commercial beekeeping, is not only causing them a serious health problem (colony collapse disorder), but, as is now proven, emotional distress, too.

It’s time to give all animals the benefit of the doubt and treat them with respect as sentient beings – in their own right and with their own inner lives.