PhD Studentship: Biases in Decision-making and Their Implications for Resilience and Animal Welfare

University of Bristol - Health Sciences / Bristol Veterinary School

The project:

There is growing interest in understanding why some individuals are more resilient to challenge than others. This is biomedically important, and also relevant to animal welfare given that concerns about global food security may drive renewed intensification of animal production and generate increased challenges for livestock. Resilient animals will better withstand a more challenging environment. A key predictor of resilience in humans is how they appraise or judge a situation as this determines the decisions they make and hence the impact that the situation has on them; positive appraisals and optimism often predict resilience to emotional or mood disorders (Kalisch et al. 2015. Behav Brain Sci 38, e92). The influence of decision-making style (e.g. optimistic or pessimistic biases) on resilience has received almost no study in animals, partly due to the absence of a suitable way of measuring biases in decisions. However, a method for measuring such ‘cognitive biases’ is now widely used in many species (Harding et al. 2004. Nature 427, 312), and one study of rats has recently shown that ‘optimistic’ responders are indeed more resilient to stress than ‘pessimistic’ responders (Rygula et al. 2013. Neuropsychopharm 38, 2188-2196).

The aims of the PhD are to provide the first in-depth investigation of the links between decision-making style and resilience in an animal species (rats). The project will provide fundamental information on this relationship, use knowledge gained to start investigating ways of enhancing resilience, and open the way for studies in other species. Computational models will be used to determine individuals’ decision-making styles, and different forms of resilience, and their temporal properties, will be described and linked to decision-making characteristics. The possibility of manipulating resilience by altering decision-making styles will also be examined. The student will receive training in animal learning and behaviour, affective psychology, and computational neuroscience of decision-making from a supervisory team with expertise in all areas.


Main supervisor: Prof Mike Mendl (, University of Bristol

Co-supervisors: Prof Iain Gilchrist and Dr Liz Paul (University of Bristol), Prof Peter Dayan (University College London)

How to apply:

Please see information on the BBSRC SWBio Doctoral Training Programme which will fund this studentship at:

Detailed instructions on how to apply for this studentship are at:  (navigate to the ‘University of Bristol’ option).

Candidate requirements: Candidates should have or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or significant relevant experience. Due to the mathematical component of the taught course in year 1 and the quantitative emphasis in our project, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.

Funding: For funding and eligibility information, please see the BBSRC SWBio DTP website:

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South West England