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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

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The themes of Mama's Last Hug (2019) by Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal include the difference between emotions and feelings and how emotions inform behaviors. The title is taken from the subject of a viral video in which biologist Jan van Hooff (himself a mentor of the author) hugs a dying chimpanzee ("Mama") at the Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands.

The author notes the difference between emotions and feelings. The former, he states, are measurable. For example, the author claims that he can measure facial expressions in animals in order to know emotions (such as affection, fear, sexual desire, etc.). The tie between emotions and expressions is a demonstrable one. Emotions are caused by physiology and brain chemistry. Feelings, however, are described by the author as a recognition or awareness of one's emotions. The author claims that he is comfortable with guessing feelings, but acknowledges that he cannot know them. In brief, the author explains that emotions give meaning to life by focusing the mind and body to allow for adaptive (not instinctive) actions such as feeling, eating, pursuing, etc. The emotions represent a more flexible and sophisticated system than instinct, according to the author. The author furthermore claims that non-human species exhibit the six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise), but also a broader spectrum of emotions that other behavioral scientists call "secondary" (such as attraction and bonding).

While claiming that primates exhibit the same emotions as humans, the author acknowledges that the difference between emotions in humans and primates is in the intensity and application of them.

The book also addresses the relationship between emotions and behavior. The author makes a strong case for studying behavior as a clue to emotions. He is a data-driven scientist and so prefers studying behavior with a view to investigating the emotions that drive these behaviors. Emotions, the author claims, are action-prone. The author briefly acknowledges a historical dichotomy between behavioralists (who avoid discussions of thoughts and feelings) and psychologists (who focus on complex emotions in humans). Frans de Waal seeks to bridge the gap by claiming that emotions exist in animals, and that these emotions ought to be studied by means of behavior.