Goat Perception of Human Cues & Reliability of Thermal Imaging in Welfare Research

  • Marianne Mason

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Chapter 1 reviews current knowledge on goat cognition, emotions and personality, emphasizing the rich emotional lives of goats, the sophisticated cognitive abilities they possess and inter-individual strategies that emerge as they navigate their complex physical and social environments. As a gregarious species, how goats perceive social cues, including human ones has key implications for welfare. If goats can accurately discriminate among humans, relationships may develop, enabling animals to attribute previous positive and negative interactions with certain people and use these to predict their future behaviour. Our behavioural motivations can also be anticipated using emotional cues which may shape responses to human-goat interactions and the development of these relationships. Using playback experiments Chapter 2 provides preliminary evidence that goats can combine visual and vocal cues to cross-modally recognize familiar people and Chapter 3 suggests goats can discriminate emotional valence (happy versus angry) of human voices. However, to understand the significance of sensitivity to human cues from a welfare perspective, we must understand how these affect emotional experiences, requiring indicators to measure such responses. Thermal imaging is a non-invasive technology increasingly used in welfare research, and in Chapter 4 I examine the reliability of this method for measuring goat peripheral temperatures. Surface temperature measurements in goats were found to be highly repeatable in the short-term (≈1min) but showed poor reproducibility across days. This suggests that although surface temperatures are sensitive to ambient conditions, which should be tightly controlled, thermal imaging may be appropriate for measuring skin temperature changes at the individual-level, for example in response to emotional experiences before and after human handling. This thesis investigates the social cognitive abilities underlying development and maintenance of human-goat relationships, from how they discriminate among us and predict our behavioural motivations to refining indicators enabling future researchers to assess goat emotional responses to human cues.
Date of Award6 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SponsorsUniversity of Roehampton
SupervisorStuart Semple (Director of Studies) & Alan G McElligott (Supervisor)


  • Social cognition
  • Thermography
  • Social recognition
  • Cross-modal recognition
  • Emotional indicators
  • Emotional discrimination
  • Welfare
  • Human-animal interactions
  • Human-animal relationships

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