A Cognitive Approach to Human / Machine – Farm Animal Interactions

Format of work:

Conference Presentation

Event presented at / Journal Name:

AWRN Workshop on Human-Animal Machine-Animal Interactions

Speaker / Contact Author's Name:

Christian Nawroth, Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology

Speaker / Contact Author's E-mail Address:


  • Research aim:

    Developing a framework to systematically investigate how farmed animals perceive and interact with humans and machines

  • Background:

    Humans, and increasingly machines, frequently engage and interact with animals on farms. Previous frameworks have primarily focused on a behavioral approach, emphasizing conditional and operant conditioning in human-animal or machine-animal interactions. However, this approach may not fully capture the capabilities of farmed animals to perceive and interact with their environment.

  • Approach:

    A review was conducted on the literature concerning the socio-cognitive capacities of farm animals in relation to human-animal and machine-animal interactions.

  • Key finding:

    Goats and other farmed animal species exhibit sophisticated abilities to engage and interact with humans. However, research on farmed animals' attribution of motivation and intention to humans is lacking, and insights from primate cognition assessment approaches could be valuable. Research on interactions between farm animals and machines is currently limited, but can benefit from studies conducted on canids.

  • Industry or policy relevance:

    Human-animal interactions that do not consider the needs and abilities of the animals can result in guidelines and practices that negatively impact their welfare. The implementation of novel technological elements, such as milking robots or cleaning robots, has the potential to affect farm animal behaviour, and measures must be taken to mitigate any adverse effects.

  • Route for practical application:

    Human handlers should incorporate cognitive processes that assist farmed animals in anticipating human behaviour into their daily handling routines. Machines that move or interact within farm animal facilities should exhibit behaviour that aligns with predictable behavioural patterns seen by conspecifics or heterospecifics.

  • Confidence in findings and next steps towards realising impact:

    A growing body of published peer-reviewed literature suggests that farmed animals possess sophisticated cognitive abilities, enabling them to anticipate changes in their social environment. Moving forward, it is essential to adopt systematic approaches to assess cognitive capacities across various farmed animal species. Additionally, it is crucial to integrate null findings into potential husbandry recommendations, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the subject.


DFG, Farm Sanctuary

Links to Open Access Publications or DOI:


Nawroth, C. (2023) Predicting and interpreting behaviour: A cognitive approach to human/machine-farm animal interactions. AWRN-funded Workshop on Understanding the impact of human/animal and machine/animal interactions on animal welfare. Harper Adams University, 26th April 2023.