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Fundamental behaviour, cognition and stress

The following people are in this group:

More about this group

We carry out high quality fundamental research into animal motivation, cognition and emotion, including the development of novel approaches, to underpin new and better methods for animal welfare assessment.

Accurate assessment of animal welfare, a better understanding of how animals perceive, respond to and are affected by potential welfare challenges, and how they make decisions that influence their future wellbeing / survival, are all essential to reliably determine which conditions result in good and poor animal welfare, how different conditions vary in their impact on welfare, and whether attempts to improve welfare are successful or not. This objective underpins much of the group’s other work, by aiming to develop better methods for assessing and measuring welfare through a fundamental understanding of animal motivation, cognition, emotion, and pain perception, individual differences in ability to cope with stressors and their epigenetic bases, and how behavioural states relate to (stress) physiology, immunology and health.

What are we doing at the moment?
 Ongoing work is addressing a number of fundamental questions and developing new techniques to assist in answering some of these (and other future) questions:
 Development of novel cognitive measures of emotional state using parallel studies of animals and humans, including assessing relationships between conscious emotion and cognitive function in people.
Assessment of the relationship between ‘welfare indicator’ and ‘motivational priority’ approaches to welfare assessment, using bio-statistical techniques to relate the two.
Studies of social discrimination and memory, social cognition and information transfer, social communication, category formation, and empathic responses in domestic species.
Studies of the effects of early experience of husbandry procedures on subsequent ability to cope with welfare challenges later in life.
Investigation of links between behavioural coping style, stress physiology, immunology, gut microbiology and health, and between behavioural changes and humane endpoints.
Development and application of complex statistical approaches to model underlying structures in data.
Mathematical modelling of how animals make decisions under varying environmental conditions and internal states.
Work in this area involves extensive collaboration with behavioural ecologists, primatologists, mathematicians, statisticians, veterinary scientists, psychologists, neuroendocrinologists, psychopharmacologists, immunologists, microbiologists, both within the University and beyond.

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Within the University

Professor William Browne
Director - Centre for Multilevel Modelling