Balcombe J. Pleasure: The Neglected Experience. Poster session presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


In the realms of animal sentience, almost all scholarly discussion revolves around its negative aspects: pain, stress, distress, and suffering. By contrast, the positive aspects of sentience—rewards and pleasures—are rarely broached by scientists. Yet behavioural and ecological evidence suggests that animals, like humans, are motivated to seek rewards, and not merely to avoid pain and suffering. In the conscious, sentient animal, the drive to secure food, shelter, social contact, and reproductive success is motivated by desire (appetitive behaviour) and reinforced by pleasure (consummative behaviour). These proximate/experiential phenomena are harmonious with ultimate/evolutionary influences; natural selection favours behaviours that enhance survival and procreation. Yet, despite the heuristic value of interpreting animal behaviour through the proximate/experiential lens, scholarly study of animal behaviour—be it in the wild or in captivity—remains entrenched in the ultimate/evolutionary sphere. Not just science but also ethics suffer for this. Pleasure has moral import for such practices as factory farming and laboratory research, for it raises the moral burden of depriving animals the opportunity to lead fulfilling, enjoyable lives.