Alistair Lawrence


  • Easter Bush, Roslin Institute Building

    EH25 9RG Midlothian

    United Kingdom

1993 …2021

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Personal profile

Research interests

Our primary focus is on understanding the biology of positive animal welfare (PAW) using behaviour as a starting point but also using other disciplines and techniques as applicable including physiology, neurobiology, molecular biology and genetics. PAW is a relatively recent concept that emphasises the importance of animals having positive experiences in their daily life. We study PAW in different ways. 

At the conceptual level, we are interested in the various ideas that are included within PAW such as positive emotions and happiness in animals (Lawrence et al., 2019). One idea we are particularly interested in is the idea that animals can experience positive emotions through being able to behave according to their (normal) motivations. Our conceptual work on PAW links to social science research where we try and understand different perspectives of PAW as a way of better targeting improvements to PAW in practice (e.g. Vigors and Lawrence, 2019).

Experimentally we use different approaches to study PAW and positive experiences in animals including studies of play behaviour (e.g. Brown et al., 2015) and the use of environmental enrichment to enhance animal environments (e.g. Brown et al., 2017). Our work also includes the use of ‘rat tickling’ which has been proposed as an approach to induce positive emotions (e.g. Bombail et al., 2019; Hammond et al., 2019).

An important element of our work is to understand the relationship between the conditions under which animals are managed and their brain health. Brain health as a concept has been largely confined to humans and refers to how the brain copes with challenges such as old age and neuro-degenerative diseases. However, much of what we know about brain health comes from animal studies and there is increasing evidence that the concept of brain health also has considerable significance to animal health and welfare.  We have found evidence of positive effects from short and longer-term exposure to enrichment in grower pigs on brain development and health (see Brown et al., 2017 and Brown et al., 2018). We are currently analysing the effects of early life enrichment on brain development in piglets using a variety of measurement approaches including MRI.

This research is carried out as a joint activity between SRUC and the University of Edinburgh. My current collaborators include Emma Baxter, Kenny Rutherford, Simon Turner, Cathy Dwyer, Rainer Roehe and Belinda Vigors (SRUC); Simone Meddle, Sarah Brown, Neil Mabbott and Chris Hayley (Roslin) and Barry McColl and Gerry Thompson (University of Edinburgh).


Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Lawrence is an established international expert in animal behaviour and welfare. He carried out his PhD on sheep social behaviour under the supervision of Professor David Wood-Gush (an early founder of animal welfare science) before building a team of researchers focusing on the application of animal behaviour to interpret and improve animal welfare in a range of farm species. His past research interests have included the aetiology of stereotypic behaviour, the measurement of stress and negative emotional states, the role of early experience in neonatal development and welfare, the genetics of behavioural traits and young peoples’ perceptions of animal welfare.  Since stepping down as Head of the Animal & Veterinary Science Group (SRUC) in 2014 he has been working on positive animal welfare including conceptual work and experimental research on play behaviour and environmental enrichment. More recently, he has begun work on the concept of brain health and the relevance of this to animal health and welfare. 


I regard teaching as an essential aspect of an academic career. I have taught throughout my career at undergraduate and postgraduate levels to a mixture of students from biological, agricultural and veterinary courses. I am a co-founder of the internationally recognised MSc in Applied Animal & Welfare at Edinburgh which has been running successfully in Edinburgh since 1990. 

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Edinburgh

1 Sep 19801 Jan 1984

Award Date: 14 Jul 1984

Bachelor, University of St Andrews

1 Sep 19731 Jul 1977

Award Date: 1 Jul 1977


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