View all news

‘Optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ decision-making as an indicator of animal emotion and welfare

8 December 2020

On 8 December 2020 Bristol Neuroscience was delighted to welcome Prof Mike Mendl and Dr Vikki Neville of Bristol Veterinary School who gave an excellent overview of the research they have been conducting on animal behaviour.

Reliable and validated measures of emotion in animals are of great import; they are crucial to better understanding and developing treatments for human mood disorders, and they are necessary for ensuring good animal welfare. We have developed a novel measure of emotion in animals that is grounded in theory and psychological research – decision-making under ambiguity. Specifically, we consider that more ‘optimistic’ decisions about ambiguous stimuli reflect more positive emotional states, while the opposite is true for more ‘pessimistic’ decisions. In this talk, we will outline the background behind and implementation of this measure, meta-analyses that have been conducted to validate the measure, and discuss how computational modelling has been used to further understand the cognitive processes underlying ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ decision-making as an indicator of animal emotion and welfare.

Mike Mendl is Professor of Animal Behaviour and WElfare in Bristol Veterinary School. His interests lie in the links between affective and cognitive processes, in particular the ways in which attention, memory and decision-making both influence and are influenced by affective state. One aim of his current research, in collaboration with psychologist Dr Liz Paul, is to investigate whether affect-induced modulation of decision-making, which leads to so-called 'cognitive bias' in humans, is also observed in animals, and hence can be used as a novel indicator of animal affect (emotion) and welfare. He is also interested in the evolution and function of affective states, developing new measures of animal emotion and welfare that can be used under field conditions, and understanding more about animal cognition, emotion, personality, and social behaviour with a view to identifying and minimising welfare problems for captive animals.

Dr Vikki Neville is a Research Associate in Bristol Veterinary School. She is interested in better understanding affective states, comprising transient ‘emotions’ and longer-term ‘moods’, in non-human animals. Vikki's research aims to address three broad questions: (1) how can we measure affect objectively (2) how can we induce positive affect and minimise negative affect, and (3) why might affective states exist (i.e. what is their adaptive function)? To answer these questions, her research takes a multidisciplinary approach and draws on a range of fields including cognitive and computational neuroscience, decision theory, ethology, and psychology.

Edit this page