Animal welfare and behaviour

My research concerns
the capacity of chickens to show empathic responses. So it looks at whether
chickens are affected by the distress of other chickens. Empathy is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, so it’s likely to have evolved
from a simple, rudimentary form into what humans are capable of today. So when we’re looking at empathy
in chickens, we’re really looking at a very basic, automatic response. The study that we did with mother hens
and chicks showed that chickens possess the underlying
attributes to show empathy, but we really need to
do some further research which looks at whether
there’s an actual emotional component associated with that. I’m sure many chicken owners probably think that all hens have a capacity to show empathy. But if we’re going to start
making any recommendations or anything
that has relavance to industry, we really need to back it up
with solid science. So we looked at things like heart rate, body temperature, behaviour and vocalisations
and measured these things whilst mother hens were observing
their chicks being mildly distressed. And what we found
was that mother hens showed these characteristic
changes in their behaviour and physiology, so they showed
an increased heart rate, their comb and their
eye temperature decreased and they also spent
more time standing alert and vocalising to their chicks. We concluded that mother hens
have the underlying foundations of the emotional response empathy. The Animal Welfare and Behaviour
Group works with a wide variety of species and different disciplines,
so we work with animals in laboratories, farms, zoos
and circuses right through to companion animals in our home.
Research that we carry out really has the potential to impact on animal welfare,
so we work with stakeholders, we work with policy makers,
government and charities. So if we learn about the emotional lives
of animals, then consumers might choose to buy higher-welfare goods, so free-range for example.

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