Non-invasive assessment of positive affective state using infra-red thermography in rats

Chanakarn Wongsaengchan*, Dominic J McCafferty, Katie Lennox, Ruedi G Nager, Dorothy EF McKeegan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


With recent increased focus on positive welfare in animal welfare science, there is demand for objective positive welfare indicators. It is unclear whether changes in body surface temperature can be used to non-invasively identify and quantify positive states in mammals. We recorded continuous measurements of tail surface temperature using infra-red thermography (IRT) and concurrent behavioural observations in male and female Wistar rats (Rattus norvegicus). If tail surface temperature can differentiate between positive and negative experiences, we expect a qualitatively different response compared to negative experiences. Three groups of rats were presented with increasing magnitudes of food rewards (neutral/none, one and three rewards). The rats were placed in an arena to which they were habituated and filmed for 30 s before and 30 min after exposure to different rewards. Tail temperature initially decreased from the pre-reward baseline and subsequently returned towards baseline temperature. The overall pattern of the change was the same as for rats subjected to negative stimuli in previous studies. Nevertheless, dynamic changes in tail temperature, specifically the rate of recovery and the behavioural response (exploration), differed between neutral and rewarded rats but failed to distinguish reward magnitude. Sex differences were found in both thermal and behavioural responses, unrelated to reward magnitudes. Female rats exhibited a greater initial response with a slower recovery than male rats, emphasising the value of using of both sexes in animal welfare research. This study improves our understanding of the effects of positive emotions induced by food reward on peripheral body temperature and behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere66
Number of pages15
JournalAnimal Welfare
Early online date29 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Animal welfare
  • Positive welfare
  • Rats
  • Reward magnitude
  • Sex difference
  • Thermal imaging


Dive into the research topics of 'Non-invasive assessment of positive affective state using infra-red thermography in rats'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this