Program Information

Animal welfare critically depends upon the ability of animals to adapt to their environment to achieve a state that they perceive as positive

The welfare of an animal is determined by its ability to adapt to the environment to achieve a state that it perceives as positive. Adaptive capacities therefore require that both positive and negative emotions are adequately processed. In other words, welfare is not dependent on the absence of negative and the presence of positive states, but on the animal’s ability to adapt to them.

In order to understand the mechanisms underlying the ability of animals to adapt to environmental states, changes and challenges, the programme Behaviour & Welfare investigates emotional and cognitive processes and their neural underpinnings. These include cognitive functions such as learning, memory, attention, impulse control, and decision making, as well as emotional processes such as reward, motivation, anxiety, fear, and pain. We study these processes in rodents, companion animals such as dogs, and in farm animals such as pigs and chickens. 

Our research into emotion and cognition in animals, and how they contribute to animal welfare, is of great relevance to veterinary practice, be it with regard to laboratory, companion,  or production animals. In addition, by studying the neural mechanisms of adaptive behaviour as well as its dysfunctional counterpart, the programme Behaviour & Welfare provides important knowledge that is relevant mental health and psychopathology in humans. Therefore, the programme fits perfectly into the One Health strategy that is supported by Utrecht University.

For more details, key publications and contact information see our program outline.