Cows Can Be Optimists or Pessimists, New Study Finds
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Jill has spent more than a decade immersed in digital publishing and storytelling with a focus on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, ethics, health, and politics. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Medium, MTV, and the Village Voice.

New research out of the University of British Columbia in Canada says dairy cows can be optimists or pessimists, and it contributes to how they handle the stress inherent to their farm life.

The research, published in a recent issue of the journal Scientific Reports, says these personality traits, which are similar to humans, can become evident from a young age, varying from animal to animal.

“In humans, we know that personality traits can really affect how people cope with stress, cope with challenges or even (affect) their social lives and so on. We really wondered if it was applicable to animals as well,” Benjamin Lecorps, a PhD student involved with the study said in a statement.

The researchers noted that cows who were identified as being pessimistic often showed elevated signs of stress, such as higher eye temperature and being more vocal than optimistic cows. Eye temperatures will increase when an animal detects a threat, triggering a response in the sympathetic nervous system which increases blood flow to the eyes.

brown cow

The findings show significant value in moving legislation forward that supports humane animal treatment. California recently passed the most progressive animal welfare laws in the nation, but studies such as this one could help to improve welfare standards even further to account for animals’ stress levels and their unique personality traits.

“If we have animals that are more vulnerable to stress, it’s likely that they are going to be more likely to be sick later in life or to not cope at all with the challenging situations they are subjected to in routine dairy farming,” Lecorps said.

The research mirrors recent conclusions by Brussels’ Parliament, which recently granted animals higher levels of protection as “sentient beings,” capable of emotions and suffering.

Efforts are also currently underway to have the Bronx Zoo elephant, “Happy” be treated as a nonhuman person in an historic court case. Activists and attorneys acting on her behalf are seeking to have the lone elephant removed from the captive situation and moved to a sanctuary where she can spend the rest of her days mingling with other elephants.


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