Horses And The Effectiveness Of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment
Qualitative Behavioral Assessment (QBA) involves humans observing animals’ behavioral expressions (i.e. body language) in order to determine the animals’ emotional states. QBA has been used in various contexts on various domesticated species such as sheep and cattle. This study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, uses the QBA method to assess the emotional states of horses after the horses have been exposed to different treatments. Two treatments are meant to produce positive emotions: grooming (the horse is stroked soothingly) and food anticipation (the horse is tempted with a bucket of food). The other two treatments are meant to produce negative emotions: food competition (the horse is fed late and fed last) and plastic bag (a plastic bag is waved to scare the horse). Fifteen observers watched video clips of horses after different treatments without being told about the treatment that was applied to each horse in each clip. For each clip, each observer described the horse’s behavioral expressions.
The descriptions of the expressions were categorized and scored along three dimensions. Dimension 1 ranged from “calm/relaxed/content” to “nervous/stressed”; Dimension 2 ranged from “irritated/impatient/angry” to “frightened/insecure”; Dimension 3 ranged from “curious/interested” to “aggressive/irritated.” The experimenters found that the treatments applied significantly affected the horses’ scores on all three dimensions. For example, horses were judged as “calm/relaxed/content” when groomed whereas they were judged as “stressed/nervous” and “insecure/frightened” when scared with a plastic bag. Additionally, horses were judged as “irritated/impatient/angry” during both food competition and food anticipation, though more so during food competition. Despite these negative emotions resulting from food anticipation, food anticipation was also the treatment that made horses appear the most “curious/interested.”
Future studies may explore how an animal’s emotional state is observed to change throughout a given treatment, for example at what point anticipating food leads to the animal feeling frustrated from waiting. It is noteworthy that different observers’ descriptions of the horses in each of the clips matched up well. It is also an important finding that observers were indeed able to differentiate between both positive and negative treatments along multiple emotional dimensions. This study points towards the usefulness of the QBA method as a tool to complement animal welfare assessments.[Contributed by Mona Zahir]