Emotional Diary – 9/9/2013

I have just started to read a wonderful book by Marc Bekoff entitled “The Emotional Life of Animals“. In the preface to the book there’s an article he refers to from the New Scientist magazine concerning emotions in whales.

I quote “It turns out that humpback, fin, killer and sperm whales possess spindle cells in the same areas of their brains as spindle cells in human brains.”

So what might that mean? So far spindle cells are only known to be found in humans, other great apes, cetaceans and elephants.

I was introduced to the field of Neuroscience when I participated in and then later taught Personal Development courses. It’s fascinated me ever since and in fact provides a foundation for the coaching, emotional intelligence and organisational change work that I now do.

So I was driven to find out more. Research tells me that the part of the brain they are most likley referring to is the ACC (Anterior Cingulate Cortex). Now I recall a little about the ACC and a part of it is considered to be connected with the limbic system which appears to be primarily responsible for our emotional lives and also our memories.

Wikipedia reliably informs me that Brain imaging shows us that intense emotion activates the ACC, as neural signals are transmitted from the amygdala (a primary processing center for emotions) to the frontal cortex. The ACC is also seen to be active when difficult discerning tasks are performed, when recognising ones mistakes and when experiencing intense love, anger, or lust. Specifically the ACC has been found to be active when mothers hear infants cry.

However before you start jumping to conclusions the ACC also has parts that are primarily responsible for autonomic tasks. No doubt we will get to know more as neuroscience continues to develop with the advances in technology that allows us to monitor the brains activity.

But in answer to “What does all this mean?”

Nowadays we would probably all agree that animals have some emotions. I can imagine all dog owners nodding in agreement about now 🙂 However, I think we can still be quite dismissive of this and assume that their emotions are probably not of the same quality as ours.

For me, this whale story served as a reminder to take that time to stop and think more deeply. It leaves me wondering if all of the creatures with the spindle cells experience similar emotions, and by similar I don’t mean the same, but of the same complexity and quality.

If we consider that emotions are merely messages then maybe those creatures that share the spindle cells are discerned by their ability to rationalise their emotional experience. Perhaps they have the capability to self-regulate, reflect, manage, and utilise those emotions for better decision making. What a shame that the majority of the Human part of that collection are too busy to take the time to understand the messages they are receiving! Might Whales make better leaders?

I guess I will find out more as I continue to read Mr Bekoff 🙂

So I’m off to do some more research and sign a petition against whaling!