How Animals Experience Pain Could Relate to Personality, Just as in Humans

How animals experience pain could relate to personality, just as in humans

Physical pain is a complicated thing. Pain thresholds differ from person to person. Some women can go through childbirth, barely making a peep. Somebody else may shout and curse the house down when they bang their elbow on a doorframe.

The reason for this is comparatively simple. Physical pain is linked to emotion. This is how we learn to avoid it again in the future. This means that our personality type dictates how we will respond to pain.

Ultimately, we are all slaves to our instincts. The same goes for our pets. This is where the link between humans and animals comes in. By understanding your pet’s personality, you’ll know whether your beloved companion is hiding pain and suffering from you.

Personality, pain, and pleasure

Dr. Carrie Ijichi is a Senior Lecturer in Animal Behavior and Welfare at Britain’s Nottingham Trent University. Dr. Ijichi was provided with funding by the UK’s Department of Education and Learning to conduct a study into the links between personality types and pain.

Dr. Ijichi found that a more extroverted personality type will always be significantly more vocal about any pain they experience. In many respects, this is similar to how such an individual denotes any pleasure.

At the upper echelon of personality types, we have somebody that is extroverted and a little neurotic. If you follow the Myers-Briggs personality type model, this could be an ENTJ or an ESFP. If these individuals were to stub their toe on a coffee table, they will likely shout, scream, hop around the room and tell everybody in the vicinity to be careful – that table is a deathtrap.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have reflective and thoughtful types. Again, to follow the Myers-Briggs model, these might fall under the INFJ or INTP banner. These individuals are likely to retain a sense of stoicism in the face of physical adversity. They’ll take a deep breath, swallow down any expletives that would otherwise escape their lips, and give the coffee table a wide berth for a while.

Dr. Ijichi devised this diagram, which makes the distinction even easier to understand.

Photo by Dr. Carrie Ijichi


The emotional response to pain is primarily for our own benefit. We forge a strong connection in our minds between the physical and emotional reactions to stimuli. If something hurts, we’ll try to avoid doing it again.

How does this relate to pets, though?

Just like humans, pets develop their personalities and reactions to adversity over time. Sometimes, this is connected to the person that a pet shares its life with. You will surely have noticed that a nervous owner tends to be accompanied by a fretful animal companion.

Sometimes, though, it’s just nature and instinct. Take the domesticated cat as an example. Cats are hardwired to hide and disguise any physical pain. Unlike a dog, who will often race to a human for comfort and reassurance when hurt, cats maintain a poker face and hide until the sensation passes. In the mind of a cat, revealing pain is a sign of weakness.

As animal wellbeing is Dr. Ijichi’s core area of interest, she devised two studies. The first, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, investigated the impact of lameness in horses. The second, published by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, looked into how dogs behaved in the aftermath of castration surgery.

Why horses and dogs? Because unlike cats, who are predominantly introverted by nature, both of these species encompass a wide range of personality types. The studies proved that the reaction of animals to pain mirrors that of humans. More extroverted pets will make it evident that they are in pain. Introverted and anxious pets, meanwhile, are more likely to mask their discomfort.

What is the take-home message?

Ultimately, we need to remember these different reactions when assessing the behavior of our pets. This means that we’ll be able to take better care of our companions and know when – and what – they are trying to communicate with us.

The sad truth is that pain can prove seriously detrimental to an animal’s quality of life. It’s not a subject that anybody likes to think about, but this sometimes means that euthanasia is the most humane approach. By understanding how our pets communicate chronic and constant pain, we’ll be forewarned about when this may become a reality.

Overall, however, understanding the relationship between animal behavior and pain means that we may never reach this stage. We can, at least, hope to minimize the likelihood.

By understanding how an animal responds to pain, we’ll know if earlier intervention is necessary. In some cases, this may prolong the life of our pets. These critters rely on us for everything, after all. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we understand what they are going through and to react accordingly.

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