Animal emotions, behaviour and the promotion of positive welfare states

D J Mellor
New Zealand Veterinary Journal 2012, 60 (1): 1-8
This paper presents a rationale that may significantly boost the drive to promote positive welfare states in animals. The rationale is based largely, but not exclusively, on an experimentally supported neuropsychological understanding of relationships between emotions and behaviour, an understanding that has not yet been incorporated into animal welfare science thinking. Reference is made to major elements of the neural/cognitive foundations of motivational drives that energise and direct particular behaviours and their related subjective or emotional experiences. These experiences are generated in part by sensory inputs that reflect the animal's internal functional state and by neural processing linked to the animal's perception of its external circumstances. The integrated subjective or emotional outcome of these inputs corresponds to the animal's welfare status. The internally generated subjective experiences represent motivational urges or drives that are predominantly negative and include breathlessness, thirst, hunger and pain. They are generated by, and elicit specific behaviours designed to correct, imbalances in the animal's internal functional state. Externally generated subjective experiences are said to be integral to the operation of interacting 'action-orientated systems' that give rise to particular behaviours and their negative or positive emotional contents. These action-orientated systems, described in neuropsychological terms, give rise to negative emotions that include fear, anger and panic, and positive emotions that include comfort, vitality, euphoria and playfulness. It is argued that early thinking about animal welfare management focused mainly on minimising disturbances to the internal functional states that generate associated unpleasant motivational urges or drives. This strategy produced animal welfare benefits, but at best it could only lift a poor net welfare status to a neutral one. In contrast, strategies designed to manipulate the emotional action-orientated systems have the potential to replace the negative emotions generated within those systems with positive ones, and thereby may lift a poor net state of welfare beyond the neutral point to a net positive state. It is hoped that the analysis presented here will enhance the drive to promote positive welfare states by providing cogent and convincing neuropsychological support for the formulation of additional, more directed welfare code recommendations and standards that focus on the animal's behaviour.

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