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Dr Sam Jones

Dr Sam Jones

Dr Sam Jones
B.Sc.(Portsmouth), M.Sc.(Edin.), PhD (Bristol)

Honorary Research Associate

Area of research

Cognition and social behaviour in farm and laboratory animals

Langford House,
Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU
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The main aim of my PhD was to determine whether pigs and rats can discriminate between conspecifics using social categories such as ‘familiar/unfamiliar’ and ‘group-mate/non-group-mate’. Once a reliable technique had been established, it could then be used to investigate their social memory, specifically how long it takes for an animal to move from one category to another and how long a memory of an animal as ‘familiar’ lasts.


I graduated from the University of Portsmouth in 2001 with a first class honours degree in Biology. I then obtained an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare from the University of Edinburgh, including a research project investigating the effect of social stress on the physiology and behaviour of pigs. I then worked as a research assistant at the University of Southampton investigating the welfare of kennelled dogs. In 2003 I embarked on my travels and re-discovered my love for the marine environment gaining PADI Dive Master status whilst working in Australia. During this time, I was fortunate to join Reef Check Australia on an expedition to Vanuatu to monitor the health of the reef and effects of the aquarium trade.

In July 2005, I joined the Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group at the University of Bristol, working as a research technician studying social cognition in pigs. This then led to a PhD, starting in 2007, researching social discrimination and memory in pigs and rats. Following completion of my PhD in 2011, I began work on a BBSRC funded project investigating the defence cascade response in pigs and its relationship with welfare / affective state.

Activities / Findings

Methods were first developed to assess whether rats could discriminate between group-mate and non-group-mate stimuli. In Experiment One, an operant lever-pressing task was used to determine if rats could discriminate between group-mates and non-group-mates. In Experiment Two their spontaneous behavioural response to home-cage and non-home-cage odours was assessed. An operant digging task was then employed to assess the rats’ ability to discriminate between odours collected from individual group-mate and non-group-mate animals (Experiment Three) and investigate the duration of social memory for previous group-mates (Experiment Four).

 Operant techniques were then developed to assess whether pigs were able to discriminate between individual group-mate and non-group-mate animals, first using a symmetrical reinforcement paradigm (Experiment Five) similar to Experiment One, and then using a Y-maze approach (Experiment Six).

Overall, operant tasks employing responses in the animals’ natural behavioural repertoire (Experiments Three, Four and Six) proved more successful than the more abstract methods used in Experiments One and Five. Both species were able to successfully discriminate between ‘group-mate’ and ‘non-group-mate’ stimuli and showed evidence of developing cognitive categories. However, more research is needed to determine the processes involved in social discrimination and how long a memory may last.


BSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Year 3


  • Social Behaviour
  • Animal Welfare
  • Cognition.

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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