Emotions in farm animals:: a new approach to animal welfare in applied ethology

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One of the major topics of applied ethology is the welfare of animals reared by humans. Welfare can be defined as a state of harmony between an individual and its environment. Any marked deviation from this state, if perceived by the individual, results in a welfare deficit due to negative emotional experiences. In humans, verbal language helps to assess emotional experiences. In animals, only behavioural and physiological measurements help to detect emotions. However, how to interpret these responses in terms of emotional experiences remains an open question. The information on the cognitive abilities of farm animals, which are available but scattered, could help the understanding of their emotions. We propose a behavioural approach based on cognitive psychology: emotions can be investigated in farm animals in terms of the individual's appraisal of the situation. This evaluative process depends on: (a) the intrinsic characteristics of the eliciting event (suddenness, novelty, pleasantness); (b) the degree of conflict of that event with the individual's needs or expectations; and (c) the individual's coping possibilities offered by the environment. The result of such an evaluation determines the negative versus positive emotions. We propose an analysis of the emotional repertoire of farm animals in terms of the relationship between the evaluative process of the event on the one hand and the behavioural and physiological responses on the other hand.