Can we compute wellbeing in animals?

In this recent paper by Budaev and colleagues, coming out of the AHA! project at the University of Bergen, the authors show that animal wellbeing is not only something people care about, it is central to how animals themselves think about their future. And we can utilize this mechanism to improve animal welfare, as well as to understand animal behaviour better.

Basically, when an animal is about to make a decision, it utilizes its nervous system, particularly the connections between its sense organs and those parts of its brain that are involved in emotions and feelings. While this path originally and a long time ago evolved to connect sensing to emotions, it is now widely re-used among animals to connect anticipations to emotions.

This new use of the same wiring is called re-entrance, and it makes it possible for the animal to anticipate the feeling that would come out of a behaviour it is considering to execute. This is thus an emotional prediction of the consequences of a possible next behaviour. This way of thinking about animals have also led to the concept of animals as agents having “prediction machines” rather than being “stimulus-response”-automates.

Budaev and colleagues have then shown how this process can be understood as a computable algorithm, so that also researchers can mimic the subjective inner life of an animal. This opens for better theories for animal behaviour, which is goal in itself, but also for models of animal wellbeing in animal industries.

Published Jan. 26, 2021 10:42 AM - Last modified Jan. 27, 2021 11:32 AM