Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

For latest Covid-19 information click on the link below.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update.

Prof Alistair Lawrence

Chair of Animal Behaviour & Welfare
Animal Behaviour & Welfare
Animal & Veterinary Sciences

Research interests 

Our primary focus is on understanding the biology of positive animal welfare (PAW) using behaviour as a starting point but also using other disciplines and techniques as applicable including physiology, neurobiology, molecular biology and genetics. PAW is a relatively recent concept that emphasises the importance of animals having positive experiences in their daily life. We study PAW in different ways.

At the conceptual level, we are interested in the various ideas that are included within PAW such as positive emotions and happiness in animals (Lawrence et al., 2019). One idea we are particularly interested in is the idea that animals can experience positive emotions through being able to behave according to their (normal) motivations. Our conceptual work on PAW links to social science research where we try and understand different perspectives of PAW as a way of better targeting improvements to PAW in practice (e.g. Vigors and Lawrence, 2019).

Experimentally we use different approaches to study PAW and positive experiences in animals including studies of play behaviour (e.g. Brown et al., 2015) and the use of environmental enrichment to enhance animal environments (e.g. Brown et al., 2017). Our work also includes the use of ‘rat tickling’ which has been proposed as an approach to induce positive emotions (e.g. Bombail et al., 2019; Hammond et al., 2019).

An important element of our work is to understand the relationship between the conditions under which animals are managed and their brain health. Brain health as a concept has been largely confined to humans and refers to how the brain copes with challenges such as old age and neuro-degenerative diseases. However, much of what we know about brain health comes from animal studies and there is increasing evidence that the concept of brain health also has considerable significance to animal health and welfare. We have found evidence of positive effects from short and longer-term exposure to enrichment in grower pigs on brain development and health (see Brown et al., 2017 and Brown et al., 2018). We are currently analysing the effects of early life enrichment on brain development in piglets using a variety of measurement approaches including MRI.

This research is carried out as a joint activity between SRUC and the University of Edinburgh. My current collaborators include Emma Baxter, Kenny Rutherford, Simon Turner, Cathy Dwyer, Rainer Roehe and Belinda Vigors (SRUC); Simone Meddle, Sarah Brown, Neil Mabbott and Chris Haley (Roslin) and Barry McColl and Gerry Thompson (University of Edinburgh).

Current research projects

  • The neuroscience of positive behaviour and welfare
    Focused on the effects of environmental enrichment in pigs on brain development (supported by the RESAS funded Strategic Research Programme and the Roslin Institute Strategic Programme). 
  • Developing the concept of brain health in the context of animal health and welfare
    Currently reviewing brain health and applying it to animal health and welfare (supported by the RESAS funded Strategic Research Programme and the Roslin Institute Strategic Programme). 
  • Neuroinflammation in the pig
    This project uses different early life rearing conditions as an approach to understand the role of neuroinflammation in brain development in the pig (supported by Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF3; Wellcome and the University of Edinburgh)). 
  • Rat tickling as a model to understand and improve positive welfare in confined animals 
    Uses the responses to rats of being ‘tickled’ as a way of studying positive emotions and welfare in animals (2 PhD projects funded by SRUC and the University of Edinburgh). 
  • Understanding expert and lay perspectives of positive welfare
    Part of the RESAS funded Strategic Research Programme (Work Package on Welfare Assessment) and seeks to understand the implications of science and lay perspectives of positive animal welfare for welfare assessment. 


I currently teach at undergraduate levels (Veterinary and Agricultural students) and at Masters level (MScs in Applied Animal Behaviour & Welfare and International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law. 

Selected publications

  • Größbacher, V., Bučková, K., Lawrence, A.B., Špinka, M., & Winckler, C. 2020. Discriminating spontaneous locomotor play of dairy calves using accelerometers. Journal of Dairy Science, 103, 1866-1873.
  • Hammond, T., Bombail, V., Nielsen, B.L., Meddle, S.L., Lawrence, A.B., & Brown, S.M. 2019. Relationships between play and responses to tickling in male juvenile rats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 221, 104879.
  • Lawrence, A.B., Vigors, B., & Sandøe, P. 2019. What Is so Positive about Positive Animal Welfare?—A Critical Review of the Literature. Animals, 9, 783.
  • Vigors, B., & Lawrence, A.B. 2019. What Are the Positives? Exploring Positive Welfare Indicators in a Qualitative Interview Study with Livestock Farmers. Animals, 9, 694.
  • Bombail, V., Jerôme, N., Lam, H., Muszlak, S., Meddle, S.L., Lawrence, A.B., & Nielsen, B.L. 2019. Odour conditioning of positive affective states: Rats can learn to associate an odour with being tickled. PloS one, 14(6).
  • Connor, M., Lawrence, A.B. and Brown, S.M., 2018. Associations between oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms, empathy towards animals and implicit associations towards animals. Animals, 8(8):40. 
  • Brown, S.M., Bush, S.J., Summers, K.M., Hume, D.A. and Lawrence, A.B., 2018. Environmentally enriched pigs have transcriptional profiles consistent with neuroprotective effects and reduced microglial activity. Behavioural brain research, 350, 6-15.
  • Rutherford, K.M., Thompson, C.S., Thomson, J.R., Lawrence, A.B., Nielsen, E.O., Busch, M.E., Haugegaard, S. and Sandøe, P., 2018. A study of associations between gastric ulcers and the behaviour of finisher pigs. Livestock Science, 212, 45-51.
  • Brown, S.M., Peters, R., Nevison, I.M., Lawrence, A.B., 2018. Playful pigs: Evidence of consistency and change in play depending on litter and developmental stage. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 198, 36-43. 
  • Brown, S.M., Peters, R., Lawrence, A.B., 2017. Up-regulation of IGF-1 in the frontal cortex of piglets exposed to an environmentally enriched arena. Physiology & Behavior, 173, 285–292.
  • Brown, SM, Klaffenbock, M, Nevison, IM & Lawrence, AB 2015. Evidence for litter differences in play behaviour in pre-weaned pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 172, 17-25.

See all of Prof Alistair Lawrence's publications.

Prof Alistair Lawrence

Group Manager - Animal & Veterinary Sciences

Address: SRUC, Roslin Institute Building, Easter Bush, Midlothian EH25 9RG

Telephone: 0131 6519343

Fax: 0131 5353121