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Behavioural Development, Health and Welfare

The Behavioural Development, Health and Welfare Cluster undertakes research in the broad area of biological basis of behaviour and its implications for health and welfare. Research ranges from fundamental studies of the biological basis of behaviour to applied applications to enhance welfare. The cluster aims to advance our understanding of the biological and neurobehavioural underpinnings of behaviour resulting in a greater understanding of the cause of poor health and welfare and leading to interventions and treatments and therapies that improve welfare.

Three staff undertake research within the cluster.

 The cluster's research is divided into three thematic areas

Behavioural Development

Research in this theme focuses on fundamental aspects of fetal neurobehavioural development and their direct application to the assessment of fetal well-being. Research is undertaken through the Fetal Behaviour Research Centre. Research is aimed at exploring the ontogenesis of basic patterns of motor behaviour, for example, laterality and its implications for hemispheric specialisation. Other research is examining the effects of alcohol on the fetus and its subsequent development, in particular the possible effects of low amounts of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy on the fetus. A key goal of research is the examination of brain function through the detailed study of the fetus’s behaviour. Research projects include a longitudinal investigation of the predictive value of fetal habituation for postnatal development and the influence of maternal epilepsy on the fetus and its development. Research is also exploring prenatal learning in humans and other animals.

Animal Welfare and Behaviour

Research in this theme is led by The Animal Behaviour Centre and research programmes focus on fundamental and applied aspects of domestic, farm and zoo animal behaviour and well-being and the impact of animals on human health.

A focus of research is improving welfare through a greater understanding of the impact of environmental and social factors on the behaviour of animals. Research is examining the effect of housing conditions on captive animals, including dogs, elephants, pigs and primates. Studies on enrichment are exploring the underlying fundamental principles of enrichment relating to the complex environmental, motivational, social, physical and behavioural needs of the animal.

Current research on the human-animal relationship has focused on the impact of animals on health and led to research projects on the influence of companion animals for human wellbeing, quality of life and detection of disease.

Research examining olfactory behaviour is exploring olfaction in great apes; comparative olfaction; and how dogs track.

Research is ongoing into the mechanisms of kin recognition.

Biological and Psychological Basis of Health

Research in this theme is exploring the biological and psychological factors that lead to good or bad health. Emphasis is placed on research examining the biological basis of mental illness and psychological factors that influence healthy behaviour and coping.

A central focus under this theme is the psychological well-being of people with chronic illness (in particular heart disease) and the prevention (primary and secondary) of chronic illness via the modelling and modification of behavioural risk factors. Research projects exploring psychological well-being include an investigation into the health related quality of life among people with heart disease, Projects in the area of prevention include an examination of the reasons why some people do not attend cardiac rehabilitation (secondary prevention) and an evaluation of an intervention designed to reduce binge drinking in adolescents (primary prevention).

Research applying the experimental analysis of behaviour to neurological correlates of disease is investigating the role of neurotransmitters in schizophrenia and aggression, and the role of brain peptides in neurodegenerative disorders in particular models of Alzheimer’s disease and potential novel compounds for the alleviation of symptoms.

PhD Students in the Behavioural Development, Health and Welfare Research Cluster