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Pain expression is linked to personality in horses

By Carrie Ijichi, Lisa M. Collins, Robert W. Elwood

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Tissue damage may result in pain, inducing protective behaviour such as lameness. Because we cannot directly measure an animal's subjective experience, pain research and veterinary assessment rely on these behavioural indicators when quantifying pain. This assumes that pain expression is proportional to damage but this has not been tested in animals and ignores the possible effects of personality and coping style. First, we assessed whether lameness accurately predicted the severity of tissue damage, or whether there is variance in how “stoical” individuals are. An experienced equine veterinarian scored horses for lameness and then the severity of tissue damage using either x-ray or ultrasound during the course of normal diagnostics in a clinical setting. Contrary to assumptions, we found no relation between scores for lameness and severity. Consequently, “stoicism” was calculated as severity score minus lameness score. We tested hypotheses founded on previous work concerning how personality would be expected to link with stoicism and pain behaviour. Personality was quantified using a validated questionnaire, completed by owners. Owners also gave their subjective opinion on how tolerant the horse was to pain using a 1–5 likert scale. This is the first paper to assess the relationships between pain behaviour and personality in animals. We found that neuroticism is negatively related to “stoicism” whereas extroversion was positively related to levels of lameness, which may mean that pain in more easily identified in highly extrovert individuals. Future work to clarify these findings and their major implications for accurate assessment of damage and pain in animals are discussed.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 152
Pages 38-43
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.12.007
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Coping
  2. Extroversion
  3. Lameness
  4. Neuroticism
  5. Pain
  6. Personality