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Learning, behaviour and welfare

Waikato psychology researchers are working to identify behavioural treatments, and methodologies which may potentially be applied to humans and non-human animals alike.

The team forms the Learning, Behaviour and Welfare Research Unit, part of the School of Psychology at the University of Waikato. Their research aims to understand more about animals’ preferences, needs and abilities in order to look at a range of issues, including animal welfare.

Chair of the School of psychology, Dr Lewis Bizo, said the unit was involved in a range of projects working with both animals and humans. Team members were focused on using the application of behavioural principles to help human problems. They included ways to help teach those with developmental disabilities or helping people deal with chronic pain.

"Our work involves asking animals questions, essentially by providing them with choices. We require them to work for access to different foods or different environments for example," Dr Bizo says.

"There are lots of different ways of asking questions and some of the work we are trying to do is to develop better science around assessing preferences. It’s about understanding things that help shape new behavior or control the choices organisms make, such as motivation, rewards, and schedules of reinforcement."

Researchers have discovered that, just like humans, some animals have idiosyncratic food preferences, which could have significant implications for conservation efforts.

Dr Bizo said while other groups around New Zealand were doing similar work, the University of Waikato unit was the only one focused purely on behavioural research working with both human and non-human animals.

Learning, Behaviour and Welfare Research Unit