Elephants with stress disorder, rats that laugh

Elephants and other species can experience emotions akin to those present in disturbed people. Writing in the June/July issue of Seed Magazine, GA Bradshaw recounts a the story of pair of "traumatized" elephants who witnessed the slaughter of their families being massacred and grew up to be mass murderers, indiscriminately killing rhinos and other animals. He goes on to discuss the burgeoning body of evidence for parallels to human psychology in many vertebrates and even some invertebrates, and tantalizingly asks whether this means that humans' "unique" and subtle psychologies aren't more common than we like to think.

Until a few years ago, making such inference and diagnosing elephants with PTSD would have been dismissed as anthropomorphism. But no longer. Elephant psychopathology, chimpanzee infanticide and other un-animal-like behaviors are part of a growing body of research that suggests science is building toward a radical paradigm shift. Streams of new data and theories, critically from neuroscience, are converging into a new, trans-species model of the psyche. Humans are being reinstated back into the species continuum that Darwin articulated, a continuum that includes laughing rats, octopuses with personalities, sheep who read emotions from the faces of their family members and tool-wielding crows.