Professor Michael T Mendl

M.A., Ph.D.(Cantab.), BA (Hons)

    • BS40 5DU

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    Personal profile

    Research interests

    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. In collaboration with Peter Dayan, Iain Gilchrist and Vikki Neville, we are using computational modelling methods in both animals and humans to understand the links between affective state and decision-making.

    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 (including automated / machine learning methods in collaboration with colleagues at Bristol Vet School), 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-UFAW Animal Welfare Research Network which is ably managed by Poppy Statham. I am a member of the UKRI Future Leader Fellowships Panel College, and have been a core member of BBSRC grant committee A, and the NC3Rs research grant panel.


    Michael Mendls' Research

    Main projects

    BBSRC: Animal affect, welfare and decision-making: a computational modelling approach. We (Mike Mendl (PI), Liz Paul, Vikki Neville and collaborator Peter Dayan (Max Planck Institute fir Biological Cybernetics)) are using computational modelling approaches to understand the links between affective state and decision-making in rodents.

    NC3Rs: Do male mice prefer to live on their own? With Emma Robinson (PI) and Jennifer Davies (Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience), we are investigating the effects of different social housing conditions on the behaviour and welfare of male mice.

    UFAW: Is flight important to the welfare of captive birds? With Innes Cuthill (Biological Sciences), Emma MellorGeorgia Mason (University of Guelph) and Yvonne van Zeeland (University of Utrecht), we are using phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the links between species' flight dependency and measures of welfare problems in captivity, focusing on parrots as an exemplar clade.

    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, Emily Finnegan, Mike Mendl (PI)) are investigating the use of waking 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.

    PhD students

    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


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