Animal cognition conference seeks student submissions

Ellie Phillips

The Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy has invited Grand Valley State University students to submit abstracts for the chance to be selected for a 10-minute presentation on animal sentience at the upcoming Science of Animal Thinking and Emotion Conference to be held in Washington, D.C. next March.

Students whose abstracts are chosen will be given free admittance into the conference, as well as a $250 stipend.

“As the bedrock of ethics, sentience deserves a more prominent place in our legislative and corporate decision-making,” said Rebecca Basu of the Humane Society’s International Department. “The conference will allow students to explore recent research and findings in animal thinking and emotions.”

Student presentations may cover many topics, including animal cognition and emotion, awareness, language and pleasure, as well as the influence of sentience on research and policy, the marketing of sentience and the intersection of sentience studies.

“I would absolutely love to go to this because I am just very interested in animal cognition and any investigation that may result in showing people that animals think and feel just as much as we do,” said Erin Shelly, a student at GVSU. “So perhaps people will stop using the excuse that they don’t as a reason to exploit them.”

Humane treatment and care of animals was made into law through the Animal Welfare Act, which was passed in 1966. Over the years, the act has been amended to ensure that humane treatment is enforced. However, the process of achieving an entirely ethical system of animal treatment is ongoing.

“Advancement in animal welfare, animal behavior and veterinary medicine drives us to constantly challenge the current approaches, and to improve the way animals are treated,” said Namiko Ota-Noveskey, animal behavior specialist for the Humane Society of West Michigan. “Conferences like this allow the opportunity to discuss current research topics and their potential implications, as well as raise awareness.”

The conference itself, beyond just the contest, is also important to GVSU and its surrounding community.

“I think this is an important topic, especially with regard toward factory farming and non-medical animal testing,” said Jennifer Pope, the adviser for the Humane Society of Grand Valley. “Research into animal cognition could lead to some changes about the laws regarding these issues and could make animals’ lives better.”

The HSGV works to raise awareness about the treatment of animals in the U.S. and the world, and they do it through several means, beginning at the local level.

“The HSGV already does some things on campus,” Pope said. “Meatless Mondays, for example, the VegFest next month, and Compassion Events to educate about cruelty-free products to raise awareness about treatment of animals in factory farms, the circus and in these testing facilities.”

Ota-Noveskey said creating an animal-friendly world is part of the Humane Society’s mission. HSWM contributes to these conferences and their cause by providing education on humane treatment of animals to local schools, as well as offering classes and seminars based on current scientific data.They also work to promote animal welfare and education through various programs that can be replicated by animal shelters and even entire communities.

“(This conference) is a good opportunity to discuss the recent scientific discoveries in animal cognition and emotions, so that the results can be utilized to benefit the lives of certain animals,” Ota-Noveskey said. “Scientific studies and findings are valuable, but they must be available for real-life applications. Hopefully, a conference such as this provides opportunities for individuals from various fields and backgrounds to meet and collaborate for further improvement in the animal-related fields.”

Students interested in submitting abstracts for the conference must do so by Dec. 1.

For more information on the contest and conference, visit

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