Pain expression is linked to personality in horses

Carrie Ijichi, Lisa M. Collins, Robert W. Elwood

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Tissue damage may result in pain, inducing protective behaviour such as lameness. Because we cannot directly measure an animal's subjective experience, pain research and veterinary assessment rely on these behavioural indicators when quantifying pain. This assumes that pain expression is proportional to damage but this has not been tested in animals and ignores the possible effects of personality and coping style. First, we assessed whether lameness accurately predicted the severity of tissue damage, or whether there is variance in how "stoical" individuals are. An experienced equine veterinarian scored horses for lameness and then the severity of tissue damage using either x-ray or ultrasound during the course of normal diagnostics in a clinical setting. Contrary to assumptions, we found no relation between scores for lameness and severity. Consequently, "stoicism" was calculated as severity score minus lameness score. We tested hypotheses founded on previous work concerning how personality would be expected to link with stoicism and pain behaviour. Personality was quantified using a validated questionnaire, completed by owners. Owners also gave their subjective opinion on how tolerant the horse was to pain using a 1-5 likert scale. This is the first paper to assess the relationships between pain behaviour and personality in animals. We found that neuroticism is negatively related to "stoicism" whereas extroversion was positively related to levels of lameness, which may mean that pain in more easily identified in highly extrovert individuals. Future work to clarify these findings and their major implications for accurate assessment of damage and pain in animals are discussed. ?? 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-43
Number of pages6
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Coping
  • Extroversion
  • Lameness
  • Neuroticism
  • Pain
  • Personality


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