Facial expression: An under-utilized tool for the assessment of welfare in mammals



Descovich K, Wathan JW, Leach MC, Buchanan-Smith HM, Flecknell P, Farningham D & Vick S (2017) Facial expression: An under-utilized tool for the assessment of welfare in mammals. ALTEX: Alternatives to Animal Experimentation, 34 (3), pp. 409-429.

Animal welfare is a key issue for industries that use or impact upon animals. The accurate identification of welfare states is particularly relevant to the field of bioscience, where the 3Rs framework encourages refinement of experimental procedures involving animal models. The assessment and improvement of welfare states in animals is reliant on reliable and valid measurement tools. Behavioural measures (activity, attention, posture and vocalisation) are frequently used because they are immediate and non-invasive, however no single indicator can yield a complete picture of the internal state of an animal. Facial expressions are extensively studied in humans as a measure of psychological and emotional experiences but are infrequently used in animal studies, with the exception of emerging research on pain behaviour. In this review, we discuss current evidence for facial representations of underlying affective states, and how communicative or functional expressions can be useful within welfare assessments. Validated tools for measuring facial movement are outlined, and the potential of expressions as honest signals are discussed, alongside other challenges and limitations to facial expression measurement within the context of animal welfare. We conclude that facial expression determination in animals is a useful but underutilised measure that complements existing tools in the assessment of welfare.

refinement; animal welfare; facial expressions; emotion; communication

ALTEX: Alternatives to Animal Experimentation: Volume 34, Issue 3

FundersNational Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research
Publication date31/12/2017
Publication date online08/02/2017
Date accepted by journal01/02/2017
PublisherSociety ALTEX Edition

People (1)


Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith
Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith

Professor, Psychology

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