Emotion in animal contests

Andrew Crump, Emily Bethell, Ryan Earley, VE Lee, Mike Mendl, LS Oldham, SP Turner, Gareth Arnott

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Emotions encompass cognitive and behavioural responses to reward and punishment. Using contests as a case-study, we propose that short-term emotions underpin animals' assessments, decision-making and behaviour. Equating contest assessments to emotional 'appraisals', we describe how contestants appraise more than resource value and outcome probability. These appraisals elicit the cognition, drive and neurophysiology that governs aggressive behaviour. We discuss how recent contest outcomes induce long-term moods, which impact subsequent contest behaviour. Finally, we distinguish between integral (objectively relevant) and incidental (objectively irrelevant) emotions and moods (affective states). Unlike existing ecological models, our approach predicts that incidental events influence contest dynamics, and that contests become incidental influences themselves, potentially causing maladaptive decision-making. As affective states cross contexts, a more holistic ethology (incorporating emotions and moods) would illuminate animal cognition and behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201715
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1939
Early online date18 Nov 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - 25 Nov 2020


  • affective state
  • assessment
  • cognition
  • resource value
  • resource-holding potential
  • winner/loser effects


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