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Professor Michael Mendl

Professor Michael Mendl

Professor Michael Mendl
MA, PhD(Cantab)

Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Area of research

Animal Welfare, Emotion and Cognition

Division of Animal Health and,
Husbandry, Langford House BS40 5DU
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 928 9485

Summary

My research interests are in the area of animal behaviour and welfare.

I am interested 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 our 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.

I am 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.

I also have interests in the influence of early experience and social behaviour (including mother-offspring relations, early husbandry procedures, and 'abnormal behaviours' such as tail-biting in pigs) on behavioural development, an individual's ability to cope with challenge, and animal welfare.

 

Michael Mendls' Research

Research interests

  • Cognition and emotion in animals (‘cognitive bias’)
  • Assessment of animal welfare
  • Animal cognition
  • Individual differences in behaviour and coping style
  • Stress and cognitive function
  • Early experience effects on behavioural development and subsequent coping ability / vulnerability to welfare problems
  • Interactions between stress, immune function, health and welfare
  • Tail-biting in pigs

Current projects

BBSRC: The defence cascade as an indicator of animal welfare in the lab and field (PI: Mike Mendl; Co-Is: Neill Campbell (Computer Science), Bill Browne (Vet Science), Emma Robinson (Physiology & Pharmacology); Postdocs: Poppy Statham, Sion Hannuna; Technician: Beth Loftus). We are developing an automated computer vision approach to measuring rapid defenisve movements as indicators of affect and welfare in pigs

NC3Rs: Development and validation of an automated test of animal affect and welfare for laboratory rodents (PI: Mike Mendl; Co-Is: Liz Paul (Vet Science), Peter Dayan (Gatsby Computational Unit, UCL), Emma Robinson (Physiology & Pharmacology); Postdoc: Sam Jones). We are developing an automated cognitive bias task for lab rats and mice

BBSRC: The incentive value of a natural and cognitively demanding behaviour: food-caching jays as a model system (PI: Nicky Clayton FRS (Cambridge); Co-I: Mike Mendl; Postdoc: Ljerka Ostojic). We are investigating 'social understanding' in caching and food-sharing tasks in jays, with a view to assessing the incentive value / 'motivational importance' of such activities to the birds.

Current PhD students

  • Ralph Thompson (Co-supervisor: Liz Paul (Vet Science)) - Affect and decision-making in human and non-human animals
  • Anne Seawright  (Co-supervisors: Rachel Casey, Emily Blackwell (Vet Science)) - Cognitive bias and welfare in kennelled domestic dogs
  • Roz Sandwell (Co-supervisor: Tilo Burghardt (Computer Science)) - Computer vision methods for detecting faces and pose of non-human primates in complex scenes
  • Amanda Deakin (Co-supervisors: James Hodge (Physiology & Pharmacology), Bill Browne (Vet Science)) - Decision-making in Drosophila melanogaster
  • Timothy Tan (Supervisor: Kath Handasyde (Univ Melbourne, Australia)) - Cognitive bias in lizards and fish

Current visitors

  • Aurelie Jolivald (with Liz Paul, Iain Gilchrist (Psychology), Peter Dayan (UCL)) - Modelling the influence of human affect on decision-making under ambiguity
  • Renata Ferraira (Univ Natal, Brazil) - Cognitive bias as an indicator of post-release survival in translocated Capuchin monkeys

Research findings

  • Development of a new technique for measuring biases in decision-making under ambiguity ('judgement biases') in non-human animals
  • Affect-induced judgement biases appear to be reliable new indicators of animal emotion and welfare
  • Affect-induced judgement biases have now been observed in rats, humans and dogs. Other labs have used our technique to demonstrate them in rodents, sheep, starlings, rhesus monkeys, pigs, and honeybees
  • Sensitivity to reward loss may also be a useful new indicator of animal emotion and welfare
  • 'Discrete' and 'dimensional' theories of emotion can be integrated to provide a functional view of animal emotion and the role of affect in altering decision-making
  • The influence of threat (e.g. probability of predation) on optimal decision-making by combined fast/inaccurate and slow/accurate mechanisms can be modelled
  • Early experience of stressful husbandry effects may have lifelong consequences in sheep
  • Pigs can adjust their foraging behaviour to avoid their knowledge being exploited depending on whom they are foraging with

 Further information about Professor Michael Mendl can be found here

Biography

I graduated in 1982 with a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and then stayed on to study for a PhD on mother-offspring relationships and behavioural development supervised by Prof Pat Bateson FRS at the Cambridge Zoology Department's Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour. I completed my PhD in 1986 and was then awarded a Royal Society European Research Fellowship to continue work on behavioural development and individual differences in house mice at Groningen University in the Netherlands. I then returned to Cambridge University and took a postdoc position at the Vet School where I moved into the fields of applied behaviour and animal welfare and was introduced to the intelligence, grace and equipment destroying capabilities of the domestic pig. In 1993, I took up a position as a behavioural scientist at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, continuing to work on pig behaviour and welfare, and then moved to Bristol University Vet School in 1997 where I am now Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare. and have previously been Head of the Bristol Animal Welfare & Behaviour Group, and Deputy Head of School (Research). At Bristol, my research interests have been in the study of cognition, emotion, development, individuality and social behaviour in domestic animals (pigs, dogs, rats, sheep), with a view to using this information to improve animal welfare, and in more applied animal welfare issues including the relationship between housing and husbandry procedures and the health and welfare of farm and laboratory animals, and understanding abnormal behaviour such as tail-biting in pigs.

Keywords

  • emotion
  • cognition
  • decision-making
  • animal welfare
  • animal behaviour

Memberships

Organisations

Farm Animal Science

Other sites

Research areas

Research: Cross cutting research

Research: Animal Welfare and Behaviour

Selected publications

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Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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