Animals have emotions and moods just like humans do, breakthrough study suggests

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A breakthrough study published by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast has found links between animal behaviour and moods associated with winning and losing. The study was presented today (November 26) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers from the Univesity’s School of Biological Sciences. The Belfast team looked at how competitiveness and contests involving access to resources for growth, reproduction and survivability affected moods.

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When access to these vital resources is limited, animals may experience positive or negative moods, depending on the outcome of the contest.

Until now, contest research has focused on how animals asses these resources and their value.

But the new paper has proposed these assessments can influence animals’ emotional state.

And these emotional states can then go on to affect how the animals behave.

For example, animals that have experienced a loss will have their moods negatively affected and may be less likely to engage in fights, thinking the odds of success are not in their favour.

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Animals have emotions and moods just like humans do, breakthrough study suggests

Animal emotions: Moods affect how animals behave and make decions, a study suggests (Image: GETTY)

Animals have emotions and moods just like humans do, breakthrough study suggests

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Animal emotions: Wins and losses affect the emotional state of animals (Image: GETTY)

In the same way, the researchers argue, people who experience depression or anxiety are more likely to be pessimistic about the future.

Andrew Crump, the study’s lead researcher, said: “Human emotion influences unrelated cognition and behaviour.

“For example, people rate their overall life satisfaction higher on sunny days than rainy days.

“We have found that animals’ emotions also influence unrelated cognitive behaviour.

“For example, animals that won a contest experienced a more positive mood and expected fewer predators in their environment.

Animals have emotions and moods just like humans do, breakthrough study suggests

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“Similarly, animals that lost a contest experiences negative emotions and took part in less future contests.

“These carryover effects may lead to maladaptive behaviour.”

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And these emotional responses may affect decision making in potentially life-threatening situations.

Dr Crump said: “For example, are rustling leaves a predator or the wind?

“Anxious animals will probably interpret the rustling as a predator and run away.

“This mood is adaptive when the anxiety is relevant, e.g., if it was induced by previous experience of predator attacks.

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Animals have emotions and moods just like humans do, breakthrough study suggests

Animal emotions: Losses can lead animals to avoid further contests (Image: GETTY)

“But the mood is maladaptive if it was induced by something else – say, losing a contest.

“In these circumstances, when the emotional basis of the decision is unrelated to the decision itself, we predict maladaptive decision-making.”

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The moods may also underpin other decision making, such as mating and parental care.

The researchers also believe their findings may offer valuable insight for animal welfare.

Dr Gareth Arnott, a senior lecturer and Principal Investigator on the paper, added: “Animal behaviour researchers typically do not currently consider animal emotions in their work.

“However, the results of this study show that this may need to be considered as the role of animals’ emotion is crucial in relation to understanding their subsequent behaviour.

“Understanding these emotions also has practical benefits for the future of animal welfare.

“Good welfare requires animals to have few negative emotions and lots of opportunities for positive experiences.

“Understanding animal emotions and why they evolved will, therefore, help us to measure and improve animals’ emotional states and welfare.”

The Belfast team was joined by researchers from Liverpool John Moore’s University, University of Alabama, Scotland’s Rural College, and the University of Bristol.


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