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Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature
World Society for the Protection of Animals, 222 Grays Inn Rd., London, WC1X 8HB, UK
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Received: 25 July 2013; in revised form: 29 August 2013 / Accepted: 30 August 2013 / Published: 4 September 2013
Simple Summary: The emotional lives of animals is often doubted and questioned. Due to the subjective nature of animal emotions, many think that they are out of the reach of scientific measurement. In this systematic review, of over two decades of scientific literature, we found that this was not actually the case. By using a list of keywords, formed of both positive and negative emotions, and terminology relating to animal sentience, we reviewed the scientific literature. We found that the subjective lives of animals are not only a vital part of human medical research but are regularly measured and studied with scientific rigor.
Abstract: Knowledge of animal sentience is fundamental to many disciplines and imperative to the animal welfare movement. In this review, we examined what is being explored and discussed, regarding animal sentience, within the scientific literature. Rather than attempting to extract meaning from the many complex and abstract definitions of animal sentience, we searched over two decades of scientific literature using a peer-reviewed list of 174 keywords. The list consisted of human emotions, terminology associated with animal sentience, and traits often thought to be indicative of subjective states. We discovered that very little was actually being explored, and instead there was already much agreement about what animals can feel. Why then is there so much scepticism surrounding the science of animal sentience? Sentience refers to the subjective states of animals, and so is often thought to be impossible to measure objectively. However, when we consider that much of the research found to accept and utilise animal sentience is performed for the development of human drugs and treatment, it appears that measuring sentience is, after all, not quite as impossible as was previously thought. In this paper, we explored what has been published on animal sentience in the scientific literature and where the gaps in research lie. We drew conclusions on the implications for animal welfare science and argued for the importance of addressing these gaps in our knowledge. We found that there is a need for more research on positive emotional states in animals, and that there is still much to learn about taxa such as invertebrates. Such information will not only be useful in supporting and initiating legislative amendments but will help to increase understanding, and potentially positive actions and attitudes towards animals.
Keywords: animal sentience; animal welfare; attitudes; behaviour; cognitive ethology; consciousness; emotions; subjective states
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Cite This Article
MDPI and ACS Style
Proctor, H.S.; Carder, G.; Cornish, A.R. Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature. Animals 2013, 3, 882-906.
Proctor HS, Carder G, Cornish AR. Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature. Animals. 2013; 3(3):882-906.
Proctor, Helen S.; Carder, Gemma; Cornish, Amelia R. 2013. "Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature." Animals 3, no. 3: 882-906.