Lori Marino and Debra Merskin, Intelligence, complexity, and individuality in sheep


Research on the mental lives of farm animals is crucial to assess not only their physical but also their psychological wellbeing. Their current housing and handling practices are highly unlikely to meet their cognitive needs and demands, but our knowledge of their mental capacities is still limited. Although folk wisdom often refers to farm animals as dull and inflexible, recent studies show they have a rich interpretation of their environment and can solve complex problems. Yet an uncritical and anthropomorphic assessment of farm animal cognition and behaviour may lead to the attribution of an exaggerated amount of cognitive flexibility. Contrary to what Marino & Merskin intended, the approach of assessing their intelligence can have detrimental consequences both for animal welfare and for science in general.

Author Biography

Lorenz Gygax was trained as an ethologist and has worked in welfare science for over 15 years. He studies how behaviour is controlled and how this control links to emotional states. He is currently in the research group of Animal Husbandry and Ethology at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Website

Christian Nawroth, currently a postdoc at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology, studies how farm animals perceive and interact with their physical and social environments and how this knowledge can be used to improve management conditions and human-animal interactions. Website