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Professor Michael Mendl

Animal Welfare, Emotion and Cognition

My research

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.

I lead the BBSRC UK Animal Welfare Research Network which is ably managed by Poppy Statham.


Michael Mendls' Research

Main projects

BBSRC: Validating inactivity in the home-cage as a depression-like state indicator in mice. With Carole Fureix (Co-I Plymouth), we (Anna Davies, Liz Paul, Amanda Deakin, Mike Mendl (PI)) are investigating the use of wakling inactivity as a spontaneous behaviour measure of depression like states in mice. 

UFAW: Developing new thermographic methods to assess emotional valence by measuring thermal lateralization. We (Helena Telkanranta, Liz Paul, Becky, Whay, Mike Mendl (PI)) are investigating the use of thermal imaging as an indicator of affective valence, arousal and welfare in cattle and chickens.

BBSRC: Can social buffering pheromones be used to reduce stress? We (PI: Pete Brennan (Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience); Co-Is: Mike Mendl, Emma Robinson (Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience), Stafford Lightman (Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience & Endocrinology); Researcher: Jen Davies) are studying whether social buffering perhomones produced by mice can be used to reduce stress and hence enhance welfare.

PhD students

  • Emma Mellor (Supervisors: Mike Mendl, Innes Cuthill (Biological Sciences), Georgia Mason (University of Guelph)) - Using the comparative approach to identify species' risk factors for abnormal behaviour and poor welfare in captivity
  • Vikki Neville (Supervisors: Mike Mendl, Liz Paul, Iain Gilchrist (Psychology), Peter Dayan (UCL)) - Emotion and decision-making: disentangling underlying processes 
  • Justyna Papciak (Supervisors: Emma Robinson (Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience), Mike Mendl) – Novel approaches to the assessment of affective state in rodents
  • Rogelio Rodriguez (Supervisors: Mike Mendl, Suzanne Held, Sue Dow (Bristol Zoo)) – Clever keas: cognition and cognitive enrichment
  • Melissa Smith (Supervisors: Jo Murrell, Mike Mendl) – Understanding pain perception in dogs with osteoarthritis
  • Helena Tallack (Supervisors: Emily Blackwell, Mike Mendl) - Effects of nutraceuticals and behaviour therapy on dogs diagnosed with anxiety
  • Marco Ramirez (Supervisors: Helena Telkanranta, Mike Mendl, Becky, Whay) - Developing measures of affective state and welfare in dairy cattle
  • Sharyn Bestre (Supervisors: Nikki Rooney, Mike Mendl) - Indentifying predictors of good performance in medical detection dogs
  • Guillermina Hernandez (Supervisors: Mike Mendl, Nikki Rooney, Renata Ferreira (Universidade Federal Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil)) - Factors influencing rehabilitation, reintroduction and trade of brown capuchin monkeys

MSc by research students

  • Lucy Marshall (Supervisors: Mike Mendl, Liz Paul, Daniel Robert (Biological Sciences)) - Affective processes and decision-making in bees


Previous lab members

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

If you are interested in joining our research group, contact me at:

Further information about Professor Michael Mendl can be found here

Research keywords

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