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SELF-FUNDING MSc BY RESEARCH PROJECT: Is dominance in male rats related to hypervigilance for threats?

   School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

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  Dr Emma Cahill, Prof E S J Robinson  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Rats are social creatures that communicate with each other using ultrasonic vocalisations, which are beyond the level of human hearing. In their social groups, rats establish dominance hierarchies by competition for resources and aggressive behaviour. The research group are currently studying the differences between individuals in their ability to detect threat cues under conditions of safety. Our aim is to better model hypervigilance symptoms, which are defined by overreactive threat detection, in anxiety disorders. This hypothesis predicts that individual differences in attending and responding to threat cues should predict the development of overactive persistent maladaptive responses that are resistant to extinction.

This project would investigate whether the vigilance for threat cues relates to the dominance hierarchy of rats within their social groups. We will address these questions using the using objective behavioural tasks in rats, capitalising on our extensive expertise on the mechanisms of threat conditioning and extinction. The student would join a small research group and perform analysis of rat behaviour tasks to measure threat detection and dominance, alongside analysis of ultrasonic vocalisations using specialist software. The student will also be encouraged to develop their presentation skills at local journal clubs and group meetings.

When applying for this project please ensure you select the Faculty of Life Sciences and the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/apply/

Funding Notes

Please note, this MScR project is intended for students who are able to fund the project themselves; there is no funding attached to this. In addition to tuition fees there may also be a Bench Fee applied which covers the cost of the MScR lab project.


Borta, A., Wöhr, M., & Schwarting, R. K. W. (2006). Rat ultrasonic vocalization in aversively motivated situations and the role of individual differences in anxiety-related behavior. Behavioural Brain Research, 166(2), 271–280.
Jones CE, Monfils MH. (2016) Dominance status predicts social fear transmission in laboratory rats. Anim Cogn. Nov;19(6):1051-1069.
Knutson, B., Burgdorf, J., & Panksepp, J. (2002). Ultrasonic vocalizations as indices of affective states in rats. Psychological Bulletin, 128(6), 961–977.
Steimer T. (2011) Animal models of anxiety disorders in rats and mice: some conceptual issues. Dialogues Clin Neurosci 13:495-506.

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