Validating a new cognitive proxy measure of animals’ affective state

Validating a new cognitive proxy measure of animals’ affective state

Director of Studies: Dr Carole Fureix

Second Supervisor: Dr Ben Brilot

Third Supervisor: Professor Mike Mendl, University of Bristol

Project description

Accurate measurement of animal welfare is essential in order to correctly assess the wellbeing of animals managed in different ways. Because welfare heavily depends on how animals feel, we need to develop welfare measures that capture the animal’s affective state valence [i.e. is that a positive or a negative state]. Measures that do so are the affect-related cognitive judgements of ambiguity, since people and animals in negative affective states appear to judge ambiguous stimuli more pessimistically than their counterparts in more positive affective states. Existing cognitive measures in animals also have major limitations, however, such as requiring a labour-intensive training regime. Working with horses and dogs as subjects, this project aims to validate a novel cognitive proxy measure of animal affect, which will capture the valence of the animal’s affective state while reducing the need for labour-intensive animal training. You will be trained in animal handling, behaviour quantification and welfare assessment, cognition, and develop competence sought in any scientific career paths, such as advanced statistical analysis, connecting with industry, conference presentations and scientific writing, involvement in project supervision, and experience of public engagement.


Applicants should have a minimum of a first class or upper second class bachelor degree. Applications from candidates with a relevant masters qualification will be welcomed. Applicants should be self-motivated with a commitment to research and excellent ability to work independently as well as a team member. A current UK/EU driving licence is essential to this role due to the requirement to travel to isolated establishments. Desirable aspects are an MSc or MRes qualification in behaviour, animal welfare and/or cognition, own transport, evidence of high involvement in previous research projects (e.g. co-authorship in presentations at international scientific conferences and/or in peer-reviewed scientific publications), experience of conducting research with dogs and/or horses.  

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Carole Fureix. However, application must be made in accordance with the details below.


The studentship will have a three year duration and will cover full-time Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,777 per annum. The studentship will only fund those applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at:  

You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: and select ‘Apply’.

Please mark it FAO Miss Aimee McNeillie and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences.

For more information on the admissions process contact Aimee McNeillie.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, 06 April 2018.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in early May. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 30 May 2018 should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.