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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.