This process largely depends on the adaptive capacity of an individual and its ability to adequately perceive both positive and negative emotions. Welfare is thus not solely determined by absence of negative and presence of positive states, but by the ability to adapt to them.
Not all individuals are able to adapt to environmental challenges, which can lead to chronic stress and anxiety disorders. To understand the variation in adaptive capacity, we use behavioural and physiological read-out parameters to study cognitive and emotional processes. To identify underlying mechanisms, we investigate neural, genetic, and physiological underpinnings of adaptive capacity, as well as the influence of the pre- and postnatal environment.
We study these processes in a variety of species in different contexts, such as laboratory, kennel, companion animal practice, zoo, farm and in the wild. This is of great relevance to veterinarians, as they are faced with subjective context-dependent attitudes towards animal welfare. With our research we provide universal, science-based tools to enable veterinarians to make a professional judgement of animal welfare related issues.
Furthermore, studying the mechanisms underlying variation in adaptive behaviour and its dysfunctional counterpart, provides knowledge on mental health and psychopathology in humans, which is highly relevant for the worldwide strategy of One Health.