Positive Emotions in Animals

The growing scientific acceptance that animals experience positive emotions has been key to the development of PAW.

Male Asian elephant enjoying water

The growth of interest in positive emotions in animals comes from different scientific areas including animal behaviour, psychology, neuroscience and animal welfare science.

Scientific interest in positive emotions in animals is not new. Papers from the 1980s refer1 to playing animals enjoying themselves. More recently there has been a rapid increase in scientific papers reporting animals experiencing pleasure, enjoyment and fun2.

Lambs running up hill
Two brown donkeys standing

It is important to acknowledge some of the complexities that science has when dealing with animal emotions. There is continuing debate over the nature of animal emotions including whether animals have conscious awareness of their emotions. There are also different views over terminology with researchers variously using the terms feelings, emotion, affect and mood3. This can be confusing to readers, and it is therefore important to define terms and to use them consistently. Here we will use emotions as an umbrella term for animals’ subjective (felt) experiences but will still refer to other terms (e.g. affect) if it has been used by other authors.

In summary, an important contribution of PAW has been to focus more attention on the connection between animals’ capacity for positive emotions and their welfare. This raises questions about how we can facilitate animals having positive emotional experiences in practice.


1. Martin, P., & Bateson, P. (1985). The ontogeny of locomotor play behaviour in the domestic cat. Animal Behaviour, 33(2), 502–510. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-3472(85)80073-7

2. Byrne, R. W. (2015). The what as well as the why of animal fun. Current Biology, 25(1), R2–R4.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.09.008

3. Vere, A. J. de, & Kuczaj, S. A. (2016). Where are we in the study of animal emotions? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 7(5), 354–362. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1399

Positive Emotions



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