Facial expression as a potential measure of both intent and emotion

I Camerlink*, E Coulange, M Farish, EM Baxter, SP Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


Facial expressions convey information on emotion, physical sensations, and intent. The much debated theories that facial expressions can be emotions or signals of intent have largely remained separated in animal studies. Here we integrate these approaches with the aim to 1) investigate whether pigs may use facial expressions as a signal of intent and; 2) quantify differences in facial metrics between different contexts of potentially negative emotional state. Facial metrics of 38 pigs were recorded prior to aggression, during aggression and during retreat from being attacked in a dyadic contest. Ear angle, snout ratio (length/height) and eye ratio from 572 images were measured. Prior to the occurrence of aggression, eventual initiators of the first bite had a smaller snout ratio and eventual winners showed a non-significant tendency to have their ears forward more than eventual losers. During aggression, pigs’ ears were more forward orientated and their snout ratio was smaller. During retreat, pigs’ ears were backwards and their eyes open less. The results suggest that facial expressions can communicate aggressive intent related to fight success, and that facial metrics can convey information about emotional responses to contexts involving aggression and fear.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17602
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date4 Dec 2018
Publication statusFirst published - 4 Dec 2018


  • Animal welfare
  • Emotion
  • Facial expression
  • Intent
  • Pig
  • Signalling


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