Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Hard Scientific Problem of Hamster Happiness

Is your hamster happy? How would you know? Well, you might try this experiment designed to measure whether a hamster's level of depression is affecting its judgment. The idea is that depressed animals have a bias toward pessimism, happy ones toward optimism:
Recent developments in the study of animal cognition and emotion have resulted in the ‘judgement bias’ model of animal welfare. Judgement biases describe the way in which changes in affective state are characterized by changes in information processing. In humans, anxiety and depression are characterized by increased expectation of negative events and negative interpretation of ambiguous information. Positive wellbeing is associated with enhanced expectation of positive outcomes and more positive interpretation of ambiguous information.
According to this study, hamsters who live in "enriched" environments are 12% more likely to interpret ambiguous signals in a positive way, i.e., are more optimistic, than those who live in a Spartan environment.

Who says science isn't taking on the hard, important problems?

1 comment:

G, Verloren said...

"Who says science isn't taking on the hard, important problems?"

I dunno - there are many, many people who claim that animals are emotionless, and that we have no moral obligations to consider their psychological wellbeing. Some of them likely just say that to excuse various habits and behaviors they don't want to invest the effort in changing, but other people seem to honestly believe the notion as well. The larger trend is definitely influenced by old Christian traditions which place humans above all other forms of life, granted divine permission to dispose of them as we see fit.

If we can scientifically demonstrate that, yes, even hamsters and rodents experience the full gamut of basic, essential emotions we humans do, it might promote more empathy and decency in people.

Maybe it's just me, but I would consider our shocking collective lack of empathy and decency to be a hard, important problem. And in comparison to other fields of research and study, I feel that if we can spend billions on finding new and better ways to kill people, we can spend a pittance here and there on trying to measure the quality of life and mental health of a bunch of goofy rodents which, as pets, are completely dependant on our mercy and largesse.