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Be kind to others: Prosocial behaviours and their implications for animal welfare

By Jean-Loup Rault

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Abstract

Social interactions are central to the health and psychological well-being of domestic animals. Until now, research has overwhelmingly focused on negative social behaviours such as aggression or the lack of social interactions such as social separation and isolation. This contradicts the fact that social animals derive benefits from living in a group, and observations that positive forms of social behaviour are the predominant type in stable groups. In particular, prosocial behaviours have been overlooked. As a result, we know little about the breadth of the prosocial behavioural repertoire, the motivation of animals to act prosocially, its modulation by individual and contextual factors, and its ultimate welfare implications. Prosocial behaviours are generally defined as actions that an individual engages in to benefit others, and more specifically actions “expected to produce or maintain the physical and psychological well-being and integrity of others” (Wispé, 1972), hence giving animals a stake in the welfare of others. The prosocial behavioural repertoire is diverse, englobing various forms of social behaviours: parental care, affiliation, sharing, social teaching, cooperation and other types of caring and helping behaviours toward others. Prosocial behaviour differs from empathy in that empathy infers relating to another’s state whereas prosocial behaviour refers to an action, and not all prosocial behaviours may require the capacity for empathy. Nevertheless, the mechanisms that motivate an animal to act prosocially are still poorly understood. Prosocial behaviours can be modulated by a number of factors, amongst which individual characteristics (ontogeny, previous experience, dominance relationships, sociality level, emotional state, gender), the recipient (relationship to the donor, need and benefit), and the context (social and physical environments, resource availability). To date, research on prosocial behaviour in domestic animals has mostly been limited to parental and affiliative behaviours. Evidence of other prosocial behaviours in domestic animals is sparse, but this is due to a lack of research rather than null findings. A better understanding of the social and husbandry factors modulating prosocial behaviours has implications in practice. Most importantly, the implications of prosocial behaviours for animal welfare remain to be elucidated. The link between social behaviour and affective states offers opportunities to use prosocial behaviour to promote positive mental states and well-being in social animals. Prosocial behaviours could be positive welfare indicators of bilateral nature, beneficial to the recipient and inherently rewarding to the donor.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 210
Pages 113-123
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.10.015
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Tags
  1. Affiliation
  2. Altruism
  3. Cooperation
  4. Help
  5. Prosocial Behavior