"what exactly is the biological benefit for these emotions?"
Perhaps that we don't kill and eat those animals that are beneficial to us? Dogs, sheep, cats, goats, rabbits etc. can be useful for humans up until the time where we have eaten them. Perhaps the emotional attachment allows us to choose the best possible moment to kill (or not to kill) the animal.
I have a rabbit at home, although I think he's quite cute and cuddly I can't really say that I love him. I need to form an emotional bond with the animal before that happens. I don't stop to think much about whether or not this is normal, abnormal, good or bad, it just is. Emotional attachments are usually just that, attachments based upon emotion, all the rest is just guesswork I suppose.
It might just be our brains 'think' other animals are replacement for humans but I wonder: what exactly is the biological benefit for these emotions?
TB, your question seems to indicate to me that you're seeking an answer as to why we would form these bonds, as if you are assuming there was a direct benefit to them. I don't think that is the case. First, we need to examine what emotions are.
Emotions are physical responses to our engagement with the world. When something frightens us, we have a physical response, such as increased heart rate, opening of the blood vessels in the skin, dilation of the pupils, opening of the mouth and sometimes a vocalization, and sometimes even release of the sphincters which control our bladder and bowels. There are many different stages on the scale, but we all understand what it means to be afraid. Our engagement with the environment creates a physical response, these responses are emotions.
Feelings are our purely subjective experience of emotions, and these will vary from person to person, though there are certainly many commonalities. Some people HATE being frightened, while others kind of like it and may watch scary movies because of it, or take on daring acts such as skydiving.
When we engage the world around us, we can't help but have emotional responses. Take for example your coworkers at a new job. You don't know these people at all, but in no time you start building emotional responses to them. You may like them, hate them, trust them, loath them, or whatever -- but in one way or another you are going to build these emotional responses.
For this reason, we can't help but create emotional responses to the animals we engage as well. We touch them, feed them, bathe them, medicate them, etc. This is why we have emotional ties to them.
We even build emotional bonds with inanimate objects, such as a family heirloom or a prized car.
So, in the end there is no specific reason why we form emotional attachments to animals, not in the sense that there must have been an evolutionary benefit to that traight in particular. I think of it more of a by-product of our emotional selves.
Yes indeed emotional responses can be quite physically disabling, but you forget to mention that a majority of emotions which lead to physical emotional responses are actually 'intellectual' emotions. Some people puke when they see blood, but most don't. The response is biological but the instigation emotion is totally intellectual/societal/conditioned. Many allergies and asthma have also been evidenced to be physical responses to 'intellectual'/conditioned emotions. A lot of what neuroscience and evolutionary psychology are researching these days is attempting to blur the line between biological causation and learned causation. And unfortunately their blurring of the linguistics of these areas is detrimental to effective communications.
I think your analogy with our love and emotional bonds with inanimate objects is absolutely perfect! (including money and societal comforts :)
Yes indeed emotional responses can be quite physically disabling
Yes, but don't take my example (of fear) to mean that I only meant to imply that they were disabling. I was just choosing one in order to describe the physical reactions. Indeed, different emotions created different physical responses, which is how we distinguish one from the other.
The response is biological but the instigation emotion is totally intellectual/societal/conditioned.
As I understand it, emotions are purely physical and biological. I think what you are describing here are feelings -- our subjective experience of emotions -- which can indeed by shaped by thought or culture, and expectation, too.
There's plenty of evidence to the contrary... one can affect emotions through thought processes, it is the entire basis for counselling people who suffer from various "emotional' problems, doing 'happy' things can actually make you 'happier'. Being depressed is not a 'feeling' it is an emotion, a state of mind, where the intellectual can affect the physical. But a debate on the semantics of the words is not really worth it...
My point is that the intellectual affects the physical.
Taking an opposite example than fear... Some women can even give themselves a physical orgasm without any physical stimulus, and some people have orgasms in their dreams, without physical stimulation. Thoughts affect biology, not reliably, not always, but they have that capacity. The emotion is not the orgasm, the emotion is the state of mind that the person places themselves in to achieve the orgasm, with intent.
The response is biological but the instigation emotion is totally intellectual
I think I misread you a bit, because you did say that the response was biological, which was what I was emphasizing too.
But a debate on the semantics of the words is not really worth it...
I think it is not just semantics. I think those who study this stuff for a living make those distinctions quite clearly. I could be wrong, of course.
and some people have orgasms in their dreams, without physical stimulation.
But is the biology driving the dreams, or the dreams driving the biology? In other words, to teen boys have wet dreams beause the hormones are driving the dreams, or because the dreams are driving the arousal. I think the former is likely true.
well, ok, pubescent boys might not have been the best example! :)