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The impact of change and the ability to deal with it on an individual’s affective state and welfare

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  • Full or part time
    Prof M Mendl
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The project:

Unexpected change exerts a potent influence on an organism’s emotional (affective) state and wellbeing. Recent research indicates that mismatches between an individual’s predictions about its environment and the actual environment drive changes in affective state and welfare. Unexpected rewards and losses can lead to states of ‘elation’ and ‘disappointment’ respectively, and computational analyses of human decision-making suggest that decision outcomes that are better than predicted have a stronger influence on ‘happiness’ than cumulative experience of positive outcomes per se. In the longer-term, loss of desired resources from an animal’s environment appears to cause negative states and poor welfare, whilst addition of such resources has the opposite effect.

An individual’s ability to track and respond to change in the environment may also influence their wellbeing. Fast learners who readily update decisions when unexpected outcomes are encountered may be at an advantage when dealing with sustained changes to their environments but fare less well when changes are erratic and transient, than those who update their decisions more slowly.

This project will investigate the influence of short- and longer-term change on affective state and welfare in humans (short-term) and rodents (short- and long-term). Subjects will be studied in short-term (e.g. decision-making tasks) and long-term (e.g. housing) environments characterised by high or low rates of change, matched for absolute levels of reward and loss which in turn may be high or low. Indicators of affective state and wellbeing will be measured. The interplay between cumulative experience of reward and whether things are going better or worse than predicted will thus be dissected.

Findings will have theoretical impact and practical implications for the design and management of animal housing which typically involves periods of minimal change punctuated by occasional major upheavals. The student will receive training in animal behaviour and welfare science, decision-making psychology, and computational analyses. They will learn experimental design, behaviour and welfare research methods, and statistical / computational analysis approaches.

This studentship will start in September 2020.

How to apply:
This studentship is part of the BBSRC SWBio Doctoral Training Partnership ( For UK and EU students satisfying the eligibility criteria (, please apply directly at For International students and others outside this eligibility criteria, we are keen to accept students onto the programme who are self-funded or will apply for a scholarship scheme such as the China Scholarship Council ( or those from other countries (see for a list). In the first instance, please contact us if you intend to follow this path.

Candidate requirements:
Please see
Standard University of Bristol eligibility rules apply. Please see

Contacts: Prof Mike Mendl: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Funding: For eligible students, funding is available for full UK/EU tuition fees as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching the UK Research Council rate (e.g. £15,009 for 2019/20, updated each year) for 4 years. An enhanced stipend is available for eligible students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£22,456 per annum). Research training costs are included, as are additional funds to support conferences and a 3-month industrial internship.

How good is research at University of Bristol in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.03

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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