Prefrontal cortex activity, sympatho-vagal reaction and behaviour distinguish between situations of feed reward and frustration in dwarf goats

Behav Brain Res. 2013 Feb 15;239:104-14. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.10.052. Epub 2012 Nov 6.


Recent concepts relating to animal welfare accept that animals experience affective states. These are notoriously difficult to measure in non-verbal species, but it is generally agreed that emotional reactions consist of well-coordinated reactions in behaviour, autonomic and brain activation. The aim of the study was to evaluate whether each or a combination of these aspects can differentiate between situations presumed to differ in emotional content. To this end, we repeatedly confronted dwarf goats at short intervals with a covered and an uncovered feed bowl (i.e. presumably frustrating and rewarding situations respectively) whilst simultaneously observing their behaviour, measuring heart-rate and heart-rate variability and haemodynamic changes in the prefrontal cortex using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. When faced with a covered feed bowl, goats occupied themselves at locations away from the bowl and showed increased locomotion, while there was a general increase in prefrontal cortical activity. There was little indication of autonomic changes. In contrast, when feed was accessible, the goats reduced locomotion, focused their behaviour on the feed bowl, showed signs of sympathetically mediated arousal reflecting anticipation and, if any cortical activity at all was present, it was concentrated to the left hemisphere. We thus observed patterns in behaviour, sympathetic reaction and brain activity that distinguished between a situation of frustration and one of reward in dwarf goats. These patterns consisted of a well-coordinated set of reactions appropriate in respect of the emotional content of the stimuli used.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Frustration*
  • Goats
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*