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In hedonic theories of motivation, 'motivational affective states' (MASs) are typically seen as adaptations which motivate certain types of behaviour, especially in situations where a flexible or learned response is more adaptive than a rigid or reflexive one. MASs can be negative (eg unpleasant feelings of hunger or pain) or positive (eg pleasant feelings associated with eating and playing). Hedonic theories often portray negative and positive MASs as opposite ends of a one-dimensional scale.

We suggest that natural selection has favoured negative and positive affect as separate processes to solve two different types of motivational problems. We propose that negative MASs (eg thirst, fear) evolved in response to 'need situations' where the fitness benefit of an action has increased, often because the action is needed to cope with a threat to survival or reproductive success. We propose that these negative MASs develop in response to a change in the body (eg dehydration) or the environment (eg the approach of a predator) which creates the need for action, and that negative MASs can become intense and prolonged if the threat to fitness is high and persistent. We propose that positive MASs evolved in 'opportunity situations' where an action (eg playing, exploring) has become advantageous because the fitness cost of performing it has declined. We propose that these positive MASs occur during, or as a result of, the performance of types of behaviour which are beneficial for fitness at a variety of times, not only when they are required to meet immediate needs; and that the pleasure inherent in the behavior motivates the animal to perform it when the cost of so doing is sufficiently low. Some behavior (eg eating) can be motivated by both positive and negative affect. Other behaviour, such as playing or fleeing from a predator, may be motivated largely by positive or negative affect alone. Our hypothesis needs to be tested. but we suggest that it corresponds well to common human experience.

The hypothesis provides a basis for predicting whether an aspect of animal management is likely to cause strong and prolonged negative affect ('suffering '), or to prevent animals from experiencing certain types of pleasure. This distinction is important for bringing animal welfare assessment into line with ethical concerns.


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