A Window on Welfare

A Window on Welfare - Measuring the expressive qualities of behavior

Keynote speech by Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder, Animal and Veterinary Sciences Group, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh, UK.

Dynamic models of animal sentience and emotion are gaining momentum, making possible an integrated approach to welfare assessment in which emotion is an expressive aspect of, rather than a separate state from, behavior. Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) is a ‘whole animal’ methodology designed to characterise and quantify expressive qualities of animal demeanour, using descriptors such as relaxed, fearful, agitated or content. Such terms are frequently applied in studies of animal temperament and personality, and QBA extends this to include the assessment of animal experience. QBA also builds on qualitative assessment methods used in research with non-verbal human beings. A key factor in developing QBA has been the use of Free Choice Profiling (FCP), a method originally designed for use in consumer and food science. FCP invites groups of observers to generate and then quantify their own descriptive terms and relies on a multivariate statistical technique called Generalised Procrustes Analysis (GPA) to identify common perceived patterns of animal expression. Years of research with a range of animal species support the scientific validity of this approach and suggest it has significant potential, particularly when combined with other measures, to help judge an animal’s overall welfare state. QBA has so far not been applied to studies of human welfare; it would be interesting to consider whether and how this might be relevant. In this presentation, I will discuss various key methodological aspects of QBA, their strengths, weaknesses, and potential applications, and illustrate these with examples from QBA research.