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Animal emotion, cognition and welfare: improving animal welfare, and developing new and better ways of assessing animal emotion and well-being

Bristol Veterinary School

About the Project

Our lab studies the emotional (affective) and cognitive processes in a range of species (e.g. rodents, dogs, pigs, humans, chickens, insects), and how these two sets of processes inter-relate. We are interested in fundamental questions such as: what types of cognitive abilities do domesticated animals have; how do these abilities affect an animal’s vulnerability to welfare problems; how do short-term emotions translate into longer-term ‘mood’ states; how do mood states influence decision-making (e.g. ‘cognitive biases’) and what is the adaptive value of such influences; exactly what decision-making processes are affected?

We are also interested in using this basic knowledge to improve animal welfare, and to develop new and better ways of assessing animal emotion and well-being which can be implemented practically in labs / on-farms. Examples include the development of automated methods for measuring decision-making as a proxy indicator of affective state, or using an understanding of animal cognitive capacities to suggest changes to animal husbandry that improve welfare.

To achieve these aims, we collaborate with researchers in a range of disciplines (e.g. computer scientists; behavioural biologists; psychologists; vets; computational neuroscientists; statisticians; theoretical biologists; pharmacologists; insect biologists), and employ techniques including ethological methods of behaviour recording, operant training and testing methods, computer-based cognitive tasks, and (with collaborators) mathematical and statistical modeling and computer vision.

When applying please select ’Veterinary Science’ PhD within the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Funding Notes

We welcome applications at any time of year from self-funded students interested in animal cognition and emotion and their inter-relationships, and/or in applying this knowledge to help improve animal welfare.


Harding, E.J., Paul, E.S. & Mendl, M. (2004). Cognitive bias and affective state. Nature 427, 312. 10.1038/427312a

Mendl, M., Burman, O.H.P. & Paul, E.S. (2010). An integrative and functional framework for the study of animal emotion and mood. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 277, 2895-2904. 10.1098/rspb.2010.0303

Mendl, M., Held, S. & Byrne, R.W. (2010). Pig cognition. Current Biology 20, R796-R798. 10.1016/j.cub.2010.07.018

Mendl, M. & Paul, E.S. (2020). Animal affect and decision-making. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 112, 144-163. 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.01.025

Neville, V., Nakagawa, S., Zidar, J., Paul, E.S., Lagisz, M., Bateson, M., Lovlie, H. & Mendl, M. (2020). Pharmacological manipulations of judgement bias: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 108, 269-286. 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.11.008

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