A thermal image of a tiger at Helsinki Zoo in Finland, taken during our ongoing research project. In this image, different colours represent temperature zones, but compare it to the image below....
In the development of methods to measure emotions, numbers are key. This is the same thermal image as above, with a simplified example of numerical data, providing more information than colour zones.
Our research department Arador Health Science focuses on planning and carrying out original research with potential for large-scale impact for improving animal welfare.
We select fields of research that are at an early innovative stage, still requiring a substantial amount of fundamental research.
Our main research activity serves the development of thermographic methods to measure animal emotions. It is an extensive project at a very early stage of development. It will take years before the techniques will be fully developed and available for use. Users who will benefit from the results will include professionals in animal-related occupations such as farming, zoos, equestrian sports, and veterinary medicine. Read more
Additionally, we are carrying out research on which factors affect people's ability to recognize animal emotions. The results will be useful for schools and other educational institutions. Read more
Current projects and partners
Arador is one of the partners in the international research consortium PIGWEB. Comprising 16 research organisations in nine countries, it carries out and facilitates research to advance sustainability in commercial pig farming. The consortium is funded by the EU:s Horizon 2020 programme. The role of Arador in the collaboration is to train university researchers to carry out fundamental research that contributes to the development of thermographic methods to measure the levels of stress, illness and other issues of pigs in intensive farming.
Arador collaborates with the Helsinki Zoo and with the University of Helsinki in a research project funded by the Kone Foundation. We coordinate the part of the project mapping emotion-related temperature effects in selected species, to serve development of methods to measure and improve their well-being in zoos. The animals involved are mainly endagered species and subspecies, such as the Amur tiger, Asiatic lion, snow leopard, Finnish forest reindeer and European bison; as well as patients at the Wildlife Hospital. Another component of the research project involves studying which factors make some people more skilled than others to notice and understand animal emotions.
Arador also collaborates with the privately owned horse stable Cypis, carrying out a research project as one of the first steps towards future development of thermal imaging methods to measure horse emotions and welfare.
Development of thermographic techniques to measure animal emotions, detect pain and assess welfare
Infrared thermography, also known as thermal imaging, involves the use of thermal cameras to measure surface temperature at a distance. It already has several established uses in firefighting, locating missing persons, as pre-diagnostic tools in medical and veterinary examinations, and more.
There is considerable future potential for developing new measurement techniques to detect surface temperature effects caused by brain functioning. These are subtle, indirect effects caused by physiological processes linked to emotions, e.g. the functioning of the autonomic nervous system.
Once developed, such techniques will make it possible to detect animal emotions, find out which individual animals need treatment for chronic pain, and assess the level of animal welfare. Such methods do not exist yet, but the first steps towards that direction have shown it is entirely possible to develop them in the future. We, among others, are now working to bring that future nearer in time.
This will be much more challenging to develop than the existing uses of thermography. Emotions are complex combinations of several simultaneous processes in the brain. The subtle temperature effects are also affected by dozens of other factors at the same time, such as the animal's thermoregulatory processes, diurnal rhythm, recent exercise and more.
Future development of methods to measure animal emotions will also require advanced analytical methods and rigorous imaging protocols, including the development of new software. These, too, are at the heart of the new systems we are developing.
Research on factors affecting human skills in detecting emotions
When we see an animal, why are some of us better than others at detecting whether the animal feels something at the moment - and correctly interpreting what those feelings are?
There has been only little scientific research on this, despite it being one of the key questions determining how animals are kept in practice. Of the pain and fear experienced by animals around the world at this moment, only a tiny minority has ended up in that situation because someone wants them to suffer. For the vast majority, the reason is that the people involved do not know that those living conditions or handling methods cause suffering. Likewise, keeping and handling animals in a way that promotes good welfare is most successful when coupled with the ability to assess how animals feel.
A number of factors are expected to affect our ability to understand animal emotions. Finding out more about them will also shed more light on how those skills can be improved. This can provide valuable insights and ideas for animal-related workplaces as well as education, from primary schools to vocational training.