How can we measure the emotional states of animals?

May 21, 2008

Rats housed in standard conditions show a stronger response to the loss of an expected food reward than those housed in enriched conditions, perhaps indicating a more negative emotional state, according to new research by scientists at Bristol University Veterinary School, published in this week's issue of Royal Society Biology Letters.

The researchers have developed a new approach to the measurement of animal emotional states based on findings from human psychology that emotions affect information processing. In general, people are more sensitive to reward losses than gains, but depressed people are particularly sensitive to losses. The researchers wanted to know whether animals' sensitivity to reward loss might also be related to their emotional state.

Many studies have demonstrated beneficial welfare effects of enriched compared to barren housing, and the researchers found that rats housed in standard conditions, previously shown to experience poorer welfare than those housed in enriched conditions, were indeed more sensitive to the unanticipated loss of a food reward. Oliver Burman, Richard Parker, Liz Paul and Mike Mendl from the Centre for Behavioural Biology at Bristol University consider the research indicates that sensitivity to reward reduction may be a valuable new indicator of animal emotion and welfare.

"The study of animal emotion is an important emerging field in subjects ranging from neuroscience to animal welfare research. Whilst we cannot know for sure what other animals feel, our approach may provide improved methods for indirectly measuring animal emotion and welfare," said Professor Mendl.

Dr Burman further explained, "Parallel studies using this approach in humans and animals may also reveal cross-species commonalities in the influence of affect on reward evaluation. Our next step is to see whether other reward evaluation processes involving contrasts between expected and actual rewards also reflect background emotional state."

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

Related Stories

Psychological explanation to how traditions are created

Apr 14, 2015

The threat of punishment combined with people's willingness to copy others – this is the basis for a new psychological model that can describe how traditions and norms are created and maintained according ...

Dogs know that smile on your face

Feb 12, 2015

Dogs can tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, according to a new study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on February 12. The discovery represents the first solid evidence that a ...

Smiling builds trust

Nov 06, 2014

"A smile gains more friends than a long face." This Chinese saying has been scientifically validated by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön and the Toulouse School of ...

Dogs can be pessimists too

Sep 18, 2014

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.

Recommended for you

The math of shark skin

6 hours ago

"Sharks are almost perfectly evolved animals. We can learn a lot from studying them," says Emory mathematician Alessandro Veneziani.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

10 hours ago

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.