Measuring Animal Emotions Workshop Report: 12th July 2016

Dr Liz Paul and Professor Mike Mendl did a brilliant job organising the recent ‘Measuring Animal Emotions’ workshop held in Edinburgh this July. The workshop, which was funded by the NC3Rs, proved very popular attracting over 300 participants from around the globe. Liz Paul opened the workshop with a brief introduction to the topic which was followed by a very enlightening plenary by Dr Ádám Miklósi talking about his work on cognition in dogs, the aspects of emotion that he believes can be measured in animals, and what this means for animal emotion research.  He suggested we continue to look at the behaviour of the animal but that we can also use non-invasive techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging to discover the neurobiology behind emotional states. 

The day continued with a broad range of interesting and informative talks discussing the future of widely used or long established measures including glucocorticoid levels (Professor Georgia Mason), play (Dr Suzanne Held), curiosity and exploration (Dr Becca Franks), and anhedonia (Dr Carole Fureix), and new approaches to measuring animal emotion such as vocalisations in goats (Luigi Baciadonna), the use of telemetric equipment in pigs to assess autonomic activity (Annika Krause), and the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to measure brain activity in sheep (Lorenz Gygax).

Other exciting talks included one by Dr Matt Leach on the use of facial expressions as markers of emotion. He spoke about the development of the Grimace Scale and its use in a range of animal species. Professor Mike Mendl discussed the strengths and weakness of the judgement bias approach to assessing animal affect and the meta-analysis that is underway, and Dr Francoise Wemelsfelder spoke on the role of ‘Qualitative Behavioural Assessment’ (QBA) in assessing emotion in animals.

After a wide range of stimulating talks the workshop ended with a discussion session prompted by thought-provoking questions from the audience. One such question was whether animals need to be conscious to have emotions…….I will leave that one with you.

The workshop brought together inspiring researchers from a range of different backgrounds showcasing the many different approaches to measuring animal emotion. I’m sure this meeting will lead to many collaborations, refinement of current techniques, and the development of new and exciting research.


Dr Samantha Jones

University of Bristol


The UK National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) funded the workshop and an adapted version of this blog including tweets and pics can be found here on their website