More work on the importance of sleep

16 05 2018

Yet more fascinating research on sleep came out this week. Checking my email is the last and first thing I do every day, and seriously, I am going to stop it after reading this new paper in The Lancet (though I do always get at least 7 hours sleep a night, phew).

And disrupted sleep may well be important for animals too, like broilers kept on artificially long days, and rats kept in non-enriched cages, trying to sleep in the light phase of the day, as technicians and researchers clomp about around them. Turning back to humans, here is a nice lay summary of their research from the Lancet authors.

Horses can remember grumpy faces

26 04 2018

Lovely write up of a paper I’ve not read yet, from the ever excellent New Scientist:

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Reducing stress by soaking in hot baths

4 04 2018

One of my favourite activities, a new study from shows that the famous “snow monkeys” of the Japanese Alps do this to reduces cold stress (go figure), and so successfully it lowers their cortisol. A nice video from the NY Times can be seen here.

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Cross-modal object recognition in dogs

29 03 2018

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Since one of my favourite papers ever was published, I’ve been a fan of cross-modal recognition studies. Here’s a nice new one to add to the list.

Episodic memory paper I need to read

13 03 2018

Totally missed this 2016 paper, written up by here! So this is me adding it to my “to read” pile…

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Behavioural needs and operationalising love

9 03 2018

For our last two journal clubs, we covered an article by Harry Harrow on raising infant rhesus monkeys with artificial mothers (Andrea’s pick), and two papers from Misha that brought back memories of my PhD: Marian‘s “Battery hens name their price” and a theoretical paper by Ian Duncan and Barry Hughes on motivation and behavioural needs.

The Harlow work was inevitably disturbing, though not as bad as his mother-free manipulations (which apparently he called “the pit of despair”). In the end this corpus of work helped us understand the lasting effects of early deprivation (including in the Romanian orphans, who I found this awful video of last week); along with Bowlby’s work on humans, it also helped reveal the role of parental figures as comforting “secure bases” (see an infant with nothing, terrified in a novel arena below); and to welfare scientists like us, it reveals maternal contact to be a behavioural need for young primates. But was it worth it? Was there no other way of getting the same info.? I don’t really think so.

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Harlow’s definition of “love” also seemed to be clinging / seeking, which none of us were convinced operationalises that state well at all! (I had a go myself later; see end).

The papers from the 80s, so focused on animal welfare, were refreshing to read by comparison. Marian’s was the better written paper, and empirical papers are always satisfying. But measuring preference is just not the best way to assess need, and elasticity is also not the best way to assess preference, so unlike Ian’s, her paper really did not stand the test of time.


Operationalising non-sexual love: would this cut it?

– Prefer one individual over all others of same sex and age;

– Will cross great obstacles and tolerate costs (cold, wind, heat etc) to be with that individual

– Being with that individual leads to signs of positive affect (if we can assess them) and oxytocin release (ditto) that are greater that the effects of other individuals; and prolonged contact boosts immune health and even lifespan;

– Being separated from that individual leads to distress that’s not eliminated by  the presence of other members of the same species; death of that individual leads to huge distress in animals that can understand death (which may only be us and elephants so far);

– Will work for cues of that individual (images, odours, Youtube vids etc);

– Would preferentially save that individual over others from danger  (in animals that can understand this, e.g. maybe rats).

A 4th R?

1 03 2018

Having finished with logical reasoning, we’ve switched to ‘classic papers in applied ethology and welfare science’, everyone choosing three which we will work through in turn (Sam’s excellent idea).

Emma kicked off with a Flecknell paper on the 3Rs, in lieu of us reading the Russell and Burch book

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This kicked off some interesting discussions, for instance on why the 3Rs are only applied the lab animals (not animals that are eaten, for example), and whether the 3Rs capture everything that matters. Should there be a 4th R? Lindsey suggested “Recognition” for the animals that involuntarily act as subjects (and we liked this; some of might now start adding our research subjects to the acknowledgments of our papers). I raised the concern that cost-benefit analyses don’t play a role in the approval of animal use in North America (unlike in the UK) –  so whether a study is trivial, or an umteenth replicate of the same work, is never weighed up against harm to the animals.  And Aimee‘s brilliant suggestion was that we turn this into a 4th R called “Really?” (as in “Really? You’re really going  to do that?”), an idea I totally love.