Accepted Paper:

Science with sentience: recognising animals as whole expressive beings in studies of animal welfare   


Francoise Wemelsfelder (SRUC)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will critically consider the mechanistic language routinely used in scientific models of animal sentience and welfare, and present research supporting the value and validity of qualitative appraisals of animals as whole expressive beings.

Paper long abstract:

There are many ways in which human societies use animals for their own benefit, and are likely to cause animals discomfort and suffering. Animal welfare science is a rapidly growing field of study focused on how animals experience their world, and how we can improve their lives. A complicating factor in this work, however, is that scientists routinely use a mechanistic language which objectifies experience as a private 'internal mental state' that cannot be addressed or understood directly. Such a conception keeps alive debates of whether or not animals are capable of 'having feelings' at all, and delays effective action. This paper will argue that to resolve this impasse, scientists must recognise the primacy of our relationship with animals as whole sentient beings, with whom communication is possible, and whose demeanour has immediate psychological meaning - an expressive 'body language' that speaks to us. The paper will summarise several years of animal research in support of this stance, based upon development of a methodology called 'Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA). QBA research has shown that judging animal expressivity can be a valuable part of scientific assessments of animal welfare, providing indispensable insight on an animal's perspective. The paper will consider these outcomes in context of the anthropological literature on human-animal communication, and conclude with some points for discussion.

Panel P23
Collaboration and partnership in human-animal communities: reconsidering ways of learning and communication