Categories: guilt

Cats don’t possess the emotions of guilt and pride

Domestic cats don’t possess the emotions of guilt and pride because they both require the ability to compare their actions with standards of behavior (if you like rules of society). This comparison requires self-awareness and as cats have not worked out in a rational way the rules and norms of their society they do not have a standard to which they can compare their actions. Therefore they cannot feel the emotions of guilt and pride.

When humans feel guilty they compare what they’ve done with what is expected of them by society through education bestowed upon them by their parents if they are good parents. Both pride and guilt are therefore self-conscious emotions and require a certain amount of self-awareness to be experienced.

There is a big question mark over whether domestic cat can be self-aware. There’s a lot of discussion about this on the Internet, in fact. It appears that at present science has yet to provide evidence that cats can be self-aware. The same applies to domestic dogs.

Turning, therefore to dogs who are often considered to be more intelligent than cats and who have been domesticated for longer than cats, it is believed that they display a ‘guilty look’ when their owners have discovered that they have done something wrong.

A study has concluded that this guilty look is a figment of dog owners’ imagination.

In the study a researcher asked dog owners to tell their dog not to be tempted to eat a food treat in a room. The owners then left the room. While they were away from the room the researcher encouraged some of the dogs to eat the treat.

When the dog owners returned they were all told that their dog had eaten the forbidden treat. All the dogs had a guilty look notwithstanding that some of them had no reason to be guilty.

It was concluded that the guilty look was the dog’s reaction to his owner’s body language which changed once she had been told that her dog had stolen the food treat. This would seem to be good evidence that dogs cannot experience the emotion of guilt nor pride. If dogs can’t then the follow-up conclusion is that neither can cats.

The above said, I am always open to alternative views and this subject is somewhat of a grey area which is open to discussion. I’m not completely convinced by the argument presented above but it is one which is quite scientific and therefore has merit.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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