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Lousie McDowell, Postgraduate Research Student

PhD Student Louise McDowellContact Details


Project Details

First Supervisor: Dr Deborah Wells

Second Supervisor: Professor Peter Hepper

PhD Title: Laterality (handedness) in Animals

Summary of Project: For many years laterality has been studied as an observable measure of cerebral functional asymmetry. The most evident display of lateralisation in humans is that of handedness, or, the predominant use of one hand. Around 90% of humans use their right hand for daily activities. However, it has recently been discovered that this lateralised behaviour of handedness may not be unique to humans, with many animals now displaying a significant preference to use one side of the body over the other. Motor laterality has been found in various animals, predominantly in birds and primates. Research at Queen’s has extended observations of laterality to other species including California sea lions (Wells, Irwin & Hepper 2006), cats (Wells & Millsopp 2009, 2012) and dogs (Wells 2003), highlighting that lateralisation is a vital feature of animals as well as humans.

Lateralisation of behaviour is of vital interest due to the connection between it and the differing functions of the two cerebral hemispheres. This has enabled lateralised behaviour to be used as an observable measure of cerebral functional asymmetry. It has also recently been posited that lateralised behaviour may be connected to animal welfare. Yet many questions concerning lateralised behaviour in animals still remain, such as how does handedness develop? What is its underlying mechanism? And how does lateralised behaviour link to welfare? These are some of the questions I hope to answer throughout the course of my Ph.D.

Research Cluster: Animal Behaviour, Health and Wellbeing

Research Interests

  • Lateralisation in dogs, cats, primates and birds.
  • The link between lateralisation and welfare.
  • Behavioural lateralisation and cognitive bias.
  • The ability of pets to promote human health.