Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Marc Bekoff

  • Sarah DonaldsonEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_496-1



Marc Bekoff is an author and researcher in the area of animal behavior, cognition, and behavioral ecology and works extensively for animal conservation.


Dr. Bekoff is a Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a past Guggenheim Fellow. Together with Jane Goodall, Dr. Bekoff cofounded Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2000 and received the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior that same year. He has published numerous books and articles focused on animal emotion, cognition, and welfare, which have been featured in several popular science and news publications, including 48 Hours, Time Magazine, Life Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, and The New York Times. Dr. Bekoff currently writes a science column about animal emotion for Psychology Today (Bekoff 2016a).

About the Author

Bekoff is originally from Brooklyn New York, and received his A.B.. in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He went on to receive his M.A. in Biology from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and then became a graduate student in Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. He ultimately received his Ph.D. from Washington University in Animal Behavior and has focused his research on behavioral ecology and conservation. He has published extensively on human-animal interactions, emotions, nonhuman morality, and animal protection (Bekoff 2016a, b).

Animal Emotions

Bekoff spent decades studying a diverse group of animals ─ from coyotes in Wyoming to penguins in Antarctica, viewing their cognitions and behaviors from an ethological perspective (Bekoff 2016a). In his book, Minding Animals: Awareness, Emotions, and Heart, Bekoff (2002) offers readers detailed accounts of animal behavior, including grooming and gossip, self-medication, feeding patterns, dreaming, dominance, and mating behavior. Not only does Bekoff provide evidence of advanced cognitions in other animals, such as chimpanzees who medicate themselves with herbal remedies, and elephants who mourn dead group member, but Bekoff also sheds light on many of the more serious issues surrounding these animals. He offers an overview of animal cognition, intelligence, and consciousness, presenting examples of animal passions, and highlighting the presence of deep emotional lives in our animal kin. Bekoff strongly promotes animal protection and well-being in light of understanding animal emotions (Bekoff 2016b). He urges a new paradigm of respect, grace, compassion, and love for all animals.

Following his years of experience studying communication patterns in a wide variety of animals, Bekoff (2007) further advocates the presence of rich emotional lives in all animals in his book, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter. Bekoff explains that humans are not exclusive in their emotional experiences of love, empathy, and compassion and that animals of many species feel these same sentiments. This requires humans to think differently about our current domination and abuse of animals, particularly in the field of research. In this book, Bekoff (2007) highlights recent scientific research confirming the existence of emotions in animals, and blends them with related anecdotes of animal grief, joy, embarrassment, anger, and love – emotions that humans have recognized in animals for years. Importantly, Bekoff explores the evolutionary mechanisms supporting these emotions, including underlying brain structures and cross-species analyses, and advocates the use of noninvasive neurological techniques to reduce negative emotional experience for animals in research. This book exemplifies Bekoff’s call for reevaluating how our actions negatively impact the emotional lives of animals, and highlights the importance of ethical and compassionate treatment of animals across scientific domains.

Cognitive Ethology

Cognitive ethology is a branch of ethology concerned with how conscious awareness and purposeful intention influence the behavior of animals (Collins 2012). In this approach, Tinbergen’s four questions regarding the evolution, adaptation, causation, and development of behavior (see Ristau and Erlbaum 1991) are applied to investigations of animal cognitive awareness. This combination of cognitive science and ethology promotes the idea that animals should be observed under natural conditions so that researchers can understand the evolutionary explanation, adaptive function, proximate causation, and lifespan development of any species-typical cognition (Ristau and Erlbaum 1991).

Bekoff and Allen (1997) identify three major groups of people with different views on cognitive ethology: (1) Slayers deny any possibility of success in cognitive ethology, (2) Proponents keep an open mind about animal cognition and the utility of cognitive ethological investigation, and (3) Skeptics stand somewhere in between. According to Bekoff (1995) only Proponents converge with animal rights thinking in seeing animal experience as worthy in itself. As a primary example of proponent thinking, E.O. Wilson (1984) coined the term “biophilia” to describe the innate desire shared by living beings to associate and attend to other living organisms. According to Bekoff (1995), researchers can and should investigate the ethology of animal emotions, particularly within their natural habitats.

In this collection of revised essays, titled Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Bekoff (2013) discusses the expanding field of anthrozoology, or the study of human-animal interactions. A major aim of anthrozoologic research to quantify positive effects of human-animal relationships from either the human or animal perspective (Mills 2010). Bekoff (2013) outlines empirical and anecdotal evidence of emotional cognitions in animals, including empathy, grief, humor, and love. For example, humpback whales protect gray whales from orca attacks, combat dogs suffer from PTSD, and bees display thrill-seeking tendencies. In light of these animal emotions, Bekoff implores others to employ an “ethical compass” when interacting with all species within the animal kingdom.

Furthermore, in Species of Mind: The Philosophy and Biology of Cognitive Ethology, authors Marc Bekoff and Colin Allen (1999) make it clear that many animals have rich cognitive lives. They also believe that it is just as important to investigate evolutionary foundations of animals’ thoughts and emotions just like comparative studies of physical attributes, such as kidneys, stomachs, and hearts. Although Bekoff advocates the comparative, evolutionary, and ecological aspects of the mental phenomena of animals, this book shows how philosophy and cognitive ethology together can give a more holistic, analytical approach to animal cognition. Philosophy can provide cognitive ethology with an analytical basis for the attribution and assessment of cognition to nonhuman animals, whereas cognitive ethology can help philosophy to explain mentality in naturalistic terms by providing data on the evolution of cognition. This reciprocal relationship between philosophical theories of mind and empirical studies of animal cognition is exemplified by the authors’ presentation of case studies, particularly in the areas of antipredator vigilance and social play, where there are many points of contact with philosophical discussions of intentionality and representation. The authors make specific suggestions about how to use philosophical theories of intentionality as starting points for empirical investigation of animal minds. They also discuss cognitive ethology’s relevance to questions of ethics, as our beliefs about the mental lives of animals strongly affect our attitudes toward their moral status.


Marc Bekoff is a central figure in research on animal emotions, cognition, and compassionate conservation. Using his vast experience observing diverse animal species in the natural world, Bekoff promotes the idea that humans are one among many animals and urges his audience to treat all animals with compassion and respect. Because animals feel many of the same emotions as humans (e.g., Bekoff 2002), it is imperative that humans minimize any emotional suffering when interacting with other species. Further research should focus on the evolutionary foundations, adaptive functions, proximate mechanisms, and development of animal cognition, with the hope of understanding the rich emotional lives of animals. With this knowledge, humans have the core responsibility of ensuring both the physical and emotional safety of the animals with whom we share this planet.



  1. Bekoff, M. (1995). Cognitive ethology and the explanation of nonhuman animal behavior. In J. A. Meyer & H. L. Roitblat (Eds.), Comparative approaches to cognitive science (pp. 119–150). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bekoff, M. (2002). Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bekoff, M. (2007). The emotional lives of animals: A leading scientist explores animal joy, sorrow, and empathy – And why they matter. California: New World Library.Google Scholar
  4. Bekoff, M. (2013). Why dogs hump and bees get depressed: The fascinating science of animal intelligence, emotions, friendship, and conservation. California: New World Library.Google Scholar
  5. Bekoff, M. (2016a). About Marc Bekoff. http://marcbekoff.com. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  6. Bekoff, M. (2016b). Books. http://marcbekoff.com/books. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  7. Bekoff, M., & Allen, C. (1997). Cognitive ethology: Slayers, skeptics, and proponents. In R. W. Mitchessl, N. Thompson, & L. Miles (Eds.), Anthropomorphism, anecdotes and animals: The emporers new clothes? (pp. 313–334). New York: State University Press of New York State.Google Scholar
  8. Bekoff, M., & Allen, C. (1999). Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Collins, H. (2012). Collins COBUILD advanced dictionary of english. Beijing, China: Higher Education Press. ISBN 9787040327878.Google Scholar
  10. Mills, D. S. (2010). Anthrozoology. In The encyclopedia of applied animal behavior and welfare (pp. 28–30). Cambridge, MA: CABI.Google Scholar
  11. Ristau, C., & Erlbaum, L. (1991). Cognitive ethology. Biological Psychology, 32, 220–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lisa L. M. Welling
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA