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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Investigating attentional scope as a novel indicator of emotional state in animals

Hamlaoui, Anne; Keeling, Linda; Burman, Oliver; Verbeek, Else


In humans, contrasting emotional states can lead to a broadening or narrowing of attentional scope. Whether this is also the case in animals has yet to be investigated. If confirmed, measurement of attentional scope has potential as a novel cognitive method of welfare assessment. In this study, we therefore aimed to investigate a test of attentional scope as a measure of emotional state in animals. We did this by inducing four putatively different emotional states in dogs (N = 10), varying in valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low), in two different reward contexts (food rewards in Experiment 1, social rewards in Experiment 2) and then assessing dogs' behavioural responses in a test of attentional scope. We also recorded heart rate variability (HRV) parameters as additional confirmatory affective indicators. In Experiment 1, the dogs showed a narrowing of attentional scope after the induction of both positively valenced emotional states. That dogs were in a positive state was supported by the reduced Standard Deviation of normal-to-normal R-R intervals (SDNN) and the reduced Low Frequency (LF) and Very Low Frequency (VLF) HRV. In Experiment 2, when responses to social rewards were examined, we did not detect any statistically significant differences in attentional scope between the emotional states, but dogs had a slightly narrow attentional scope in the negatively valenced emotional states. The LF tended to be reduced in the high arousal positive treatment. In conclusion, our study provides the first indication that emotional states can also alter attentional scope in animals. The results justify further investigation of this approach for use in animal welfare assessment, although additional studies are needed to refine predictions.


attentional scope; emotional state; heart rate variability; dogs; rewards

Published in

Scientific Reports
2022, Volume: 12, article number: 17452
Publisher: Research Square