Dr Ben Brilot

Dr Ben Brilot

Lecturer in Ethology

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


Lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare

Programme Leader, Animal Behaviour & Welfare degree


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.

Key publications are highlighted

Bulley A, Miloyan B, Brilot B, Gullo MJ & Suddendorf T 2016 'An evolutionary perspective on the co-occurrence of social anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder' JOURNAL OF AFFECTIVE DISORDERS 196, 62-70 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Bonardi C, Brilot B & Jennings DJ 2016 'Learning About the CS During Latent Inhibition: Preexposure Enhances Temporal Control' JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-ANIMAL LEARNING AND COGNITION 42, (2) 187-199 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Nettle D, Andrews CP, Monaghan P, Brilot BO, Bedford T, Gillespie R & Bateson M 2015 'Developmental and familial predictors of adult cognitive traits in the European starling' Animal Behaviour 107, 239-248 , DOI
Andrews C, Viviani J, Egan E, Bedford T, Brilot B, Nettle D & Bateson M 2015 'Early life adversity increases foraging and information gathering in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris' Animal Behaviour 109, 123-132 , DOI
Bonardi C, Mondragon E, Brilot B & Jennings DJ 2015 'Overshadowing by fixed- and variable-duration stimuli' QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 68, (3) 523-542 Author Site , DOI
Nettle D, Monaghan P, Gillespie R, Brilot B, Bedford T & Bateson M 2014 'An experimental demonstration that early-life competitive disadvantage accelerates telomere loss' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282, (1798) 20141610-20141610 , DOI PEARL
Bateson M, Brilot BO, Gillespie R, Monaghan P & Nettle D 2014 'Developmental telomere attrition predicts impulsive decision-making in adult starlings' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282, (1799) 20142140-20142140 , DOI PEARL
Bloxham L, Bateson M, Bedford T, Brilot B & Nettle D 2014 'The memory of hunger: developmental plasticity of dietary selectivity in the European starling, Sturnus vulgaris' ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR 91, 33-40 Author Site , DOI
Brilot BO & Bateson M 2012 'Water bathing alters threat perception in starlings' Biol Lett 8, (3) 379-381 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Brilot BO, Bateson M, Nettle D, Whittingham MJ & Read JC 2012 'When is general wariness favored in avoiding multiple predator types?' Am Nat 179, (6) E180-E195 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Bateson M, Brilot B & Nettle D 2011 'Anxiety: An Evolutionary Approach' CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY-REVUE CANADIENNE DE PSYCHIATRIE 56, (12) 707-715 Author Site PEARL
Salmeto AL, Hymel KA, Carpenter EC, Brilot BO, Bateson M & Sufka KJ 2011 'Cognitive bias in the chick anxiety–depression model' Brain Research 1373, 124-130 , DOI
Brilot BO, Asher L & Bateson M 2010 'Stereotyping starlings are more 'pessimistic'' Anim Cogn 13, (5) 721-731 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Brilot BO, Normandale CL, Parkin A & Bateson M 2009 'Can we use starlings’ aversion to eyespots as the basis for a novel ‘cognitive bias’ task?' Applied Animal Behaviour Science 118, (3-4) 182-190 , DOI PEARL
Brilot BO, Asher L, Feenders G & Bateson M 2009 'Quantification of abnormal repetitive behaviour in captive European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)' Behav Processes 82, (3) 256-264 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Brilot BO, Asher L & Bateson M 2009 'Water bathing alters the speed–accuracy trade-off of escape flights in European starlings' Animal Behaviour 78, (4) 801-807 , DOI PEARL
Brilot BO & Johnstone RA 2003 'The limits to cost-free signalling of need between relatives' Proc Biol Sci 270, (1519) 1055-1060 Author Site , DOI
Brilot BO & Johnstone RA 2002 'Cost, competition and information in communication between relatives' J Theor Biol 217, (3) 331-340 Author Site