Affect and consciousness in humans and animals

  • Key finding:

    Affective (emotional) states are recognised to comprise conscious, behavioural, physiological, neural and cognitive elements. For example, the subjective feeling of fear is often accompanied by a behavioural urge to flee, preparatory physiological changes such as a racing heart, and increased attention to threatening stimuli. Although many animals display bodily and behavioural changes consistent with the occurrence of affective states similar to those seen in humans, the question of whether and in which species these are accompanied by conscious experiences remains controversial. Finding scientifically valid methods for investigating markers for the subjective component of affect in both humans and animals is central to developing a comparative understanding of the processes and mechanisms of affect and its evolution and distribution across taxonomic groups, to our understanding of animal welfare, and to the development of animal models of affective disorders. Here, contemporary evidence indicating potential markers of conscious processing in animals is reviewed, with a view to extending this search to include markers of conscious affective processing. We do this by combining animal-focused approaches with investigations of the components of conscious and non-conscious emotional processing in humans, and neuropsychological research into the structure and functions of conscious emotions.

Links to Open Access Publications or DOI:


Paul, E.S., Sher, S., Tamietto, M., Winkielman, P. & Mendl, M.T. (2020). Towards a comparative science of emotion: affect and consciousness in humans and animals. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 108, 749-770.