Congress blogging Day 1AM: ISAE, PEI, Canada

(This blog post brought to you courtesy of the 4 h time-difference-travelling-west-kind-of-jet-lag that wakes you iup at five in the morning eager to start to DO things!)

The International Society for Applied Ethology is holding its 52nd conference in Prince Edward Island, Canada July 30-August 2 this year. For me personally as a scientist, this is the most important conference and the one I enjoy most – the latter partly thanks to my long and strong engagement with ISAE (attended my first congress in 1994, am finishing my 2nd round of being on its council this year) which means that I know so many people here, but undoubtedly also much because this is such a tremendously good humored congress.

This was evident already in the opening ceremony.  President Bas Rodenburg is clearly not intimidated by how high previous president set the bar for making people crack up laughing during presidential talks. I hope some of the first-time conference attenders really takes up his advice on how to deal with PFAQ – People Frequently Asking Questions!*

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The Wood-Gush Memorial Lecture (the invited lecture of the event, to be given by a prominent contributor to knowledge in applied ethology without actually being an applied ethnologist) this year was given by Stevan Harnad, Professor of cognitive science at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He addressed “the other mind problem”, the challenge of how we understand what other beings experience. Much of the talk recapitulate what Harnad wrote in his inaugural editorial of the journal Animal Sentience, He also reminded us of Marian Stamp Dawkins very influential paper in another journal edited by Harnad, Behavioral and Brain Science. And, well, if you want the best critical analysis of how to deal with the welfare of other minds, Marian Dawkins is still the author to turn to.

The Wood-Gush lecture was followed by parallel sessions and I chose to stay for the session on Cognition and Emotions. Caroline Lee started with a longer talk On Cognitive evaluation of predictability and controllability and implications for animal welfare. She introduced a framework for welfare assessment based on the concept of predictability/controllability as stress modulators and of positive and negative affect.

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Proposing  to use this framework to evaluate the possible welfare impact of new technologies, in her talk she applied it on the case study of virtual fences for cattle  bringing in actual data from studies of how cattle react to the fence. This work is forthcoming in Frontiers in Veterinary Sciences.

This longer talk was followed by three shorter.  Under the title Understanding the bidirectional relationship of emotional and cognitive systems to measure affective state in the animal, Sebastian McBride discussed the cognitive bias test and possible complementing approaches. His underlying argument is that there is a potential bias in how chronically stressed animals perform in the test, since long term stress exposure can change both action and attention, both crucial factors for test performance. Two talks reporting experimental studies using behaviour and attention in sheep followed, by Matteo Chincarini and Camille Raoult.

* I do remember how these people confused and fascinated me when I was a first time conference participant. And yes, PFAQ seems to be a trait; to the extent that the same people participate they continuou to Frequently Ask Questions. Myself included.

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