What can animal emotions teach us about ourselves?

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Tuesday 28 May

The Theatre

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place

  • Two chimpanzees grooming while another watches
    Credit: Joelfotos via Pixabay


Free for Ri Patrons

Standard £16

Concession £10

Ri Members £7

Event description

The YouTube video of Mama, a dying and previously unresponsive 59-year-old chimpanzee matriarch, greeting her human friend Jan Van Hooff, has been watched 9.5 million times. 

In humans, we often get our information from language, a somewhat questionable source. With animals we don’t have this luxury, hence feelings remain inaccessible. But the emotions themselves are visible and measurable, as they are expressed in the body and lead to behavioral changes. Animal emotions have become a respectable topic of study.

Biologist, primatologist and best-selling author Frans de Waal reviews the evidence for animal emotions, starting with primate facial expressions. He will argue that all of our emotions can be found one way or another in other species. The whole idea that there is just a handful of “basic” or “primary” emotions (fear, anger, joy), and that all other emotions (jealousy, guilt, love, hope) are uniquely human doesn’t make sense. Emotions are like organs. We possess not a single organ that is unique to us. Similarly, although we have emotions that go deeper or are more varied than in other species, none of them is entirely new. 

About the speaker

Frans B. M. de Waal is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University's Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.  A Dutch/American biologist and primatologist, he has been studying primates for over 40 years. 

As well as being the author of many New York Times bestselling books, Frans is one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People and his TED talks have been watched over 6 million times. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, and Scientific American, and his popular books have been translated into 20+ languages. His latest books are Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? (Norton, 2016) and Mama’s Last Hug (Norton, 2019).


The doors will open at approximately 6.30pm, with a prompt start at 7.00pm. There will be time for questions after the talk.

Following the talk, a private drinks reception for Ri Patrons will start at 8.30pm. 

Latecomers will be admitted into the gallery.

More about Ri Patrons Present

'Ri Patrons present' events explore the intersection of science, culture, innovation and society with leading thinkers and decision makers. These events are supported by Ri Patrons, a group of philanthropically motivated individuals that help to ensure that people of all backgrounds can build a lifelong interaction with science.

After this event, there will be a private drinks reception for patrons. 

Book signing

Copies of Frans's book, 'Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Teach Us about Ourselves' will be available for purchase and signing after the event. 


The theatre is on the first floor and there is step-free access from the street via lift.

The closest underground station is Green Park, which is step-free.

There is space at floor level in the theatre for wheelchair users.

Seating is usually unreserved for our events. If you and your group require seating reservations, please do let us know by email and we’ll be more than happy to help. Email: events@ri.ac.uk.

Carers can receive a free ticket to an event by emailing events@ri.ac.uk.

Our theatre is equipped with an Audio Induction Loop. 

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