Dr Ben Brilot
Profiles

Dr Ben Brilot

Lecturer in Ethology

School of Biological & Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science & Engineering)

Role

Lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare

Programme Leader, Animal Behaviour & Welfare degree

Qualifications

1996-1999: B.Sc. (Hons.) Zoology. University College London

1999-2003: Ph.D. Behavioural Ecology. Trinity Hall, Cambridge

2003-2007: Ecological consultant.

2007-2013: Postdoctoral research associate. Newcastle University

Professional membership

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour

International Society for Applied Ethology

The American Society of Naturalists

Teaching interests

My teaching focuses on animal behaviour and welfare. I currently teach on the following courses:

BIOL119 Introduction to Biology

BIOL124 Biology of Sex

BIOL126 Animal Behaviour Field Biology

BIOL205 Animal Behaviour

BIOL215 Methods in Behaviour and Conservation

BIOL2107 Animal Behaviour and Welfare Field Course

BIOL307 Animal Learning and Training

BIOL313 Animal Welfare and Ethics

Research interests

My broad research interest lies in understanding the adaptive value of emotional states in humans and other animals.

In some circles of behavioural biology the phrase “anthropomorphism” is a dreadful insult. However, recent animal welfare research is objectively and rigorously examining the possibility that animals experience recognisable emotional states such as anxiety, depression, happiness etc. Imputing emotions in non-human animals actually opens up a world of testable hypotheses on the behaviours, cognition, physiology and neurobiology we would expect to see associated with these states. This research begin from the premise that emotions did not spring fully formed into existence solely during Homo sapiens evolutionary history; emotions are an ancestral trait that have adaptive value and are effected by the physiology and neurobiology that humans share with other animals.

I am focusing specifically on the adaptive value of anxiety in humans and other animals. In humans, anxiety is an emotion associated with preparing the individual for dealing with a dangerous world. It makes humans more vigilant for threatening stimuli, causes them to pay more attention to these stimuli and increases their expectation of them occurring. Physiologically the release of stress hormones associated with anxiety prepares an individual for a fight-or-flight scenario. In many ways, these processes mirror the behavioural, physiological and cognitive consequences of increasing the predation risk for animals. They increase their vigilance patterns, become more risk-averse (e.g. staying closer to refuge) and increase their levels of stress hormones (e.g. corticosterone).

There is an additional puzzle to anxiety, why is it sometimes generalised (humans are worried about all manner of life events) and sometimes specific (a phobia about, for example, public speaking)? I have developed a theoretical framework for understanding the aetiology of generalised vs. specific anxiety and am now in the process of testing this theory. An essential outcome of this research is the welfare implication of animals having emotional states. If the animals that we rely on for food and companionship can be anxious, then it adds an extra weight of responsibility to how we treat them. I approach this problem by exploring the functional implications of various environmental enrichment features for captive animals.

Grants & contracts

2012 - Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. £4500. The generalisation of high alert states.