Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Staff Profile

Professor Melissa Bateson

Professor of Ethology



I studied zoology at the University of Oxford, and stayed on to complete a DPhil on risk-sensitive decisions in foraging starlings under the supervision of Alex Kacelnik. Following post-docs in Oxford and Duke University, during which I dabbled in the psychopharmacology of interval timing in collaboration with Warren Meck, in 1998 I took up a Royal Society University Research Fellowship at Newcastle University to continue my work on the mechanisms of decision-making. I have recently become interested in applying my expertise to problems in the assessment of animal welfare. I became a Lecturer in 2007.


Research Interests

Life is filled with choices: a hungry starling has to decide which field to foraging in, a peahen has to choose between various magnificent peacocks displaying to her and we have to choose which brands to buy every time we go to the supermarket. I am interested in how both animals and humans make decisions between alternative options. My research lies at the intersection of classical ethology and cognitive psychology. As an ethologist I am seeking to understand both the functions and underlying mechanisms of decision making. The study of function involves thinking about how natural selectin has shaped decisions, whereas the study of mechanism involves trying to unravel the cognitive, and perhaps ultimately the neural mehcanisms underlying the information processing involved in decision making.

Rather than adopting a single theoretical framework, my research draws on models from a range of different disciplines including behavioural ecology, cognitive psychology, economics and marketing. I am particularly intrigued by the potential for fruitful exchange of ideas between the human and animal behaviour literatures. My research is characterised by carefully controlled experiments designed to distinguish between alternative models to explain observed behavioural phenomena.

The main animal models that I have worked with are European starlings foraging for food in the lab (in collaboration with Alex Kacelnik and latterly Candy Rowe), wild rufous hummingbirds foraging on artificial flowers in the field (with Sue Healy and Andy Hurly). In humans I have studied judgments of female physical attractiveness (with Piers Cornelissen and Martin Tovee) and the honesty of my colleagues when paying for their coffee (with Daniel Nettle and Gilbert Roberts).

In recent years I have become particularly interested in applying my expertise in animal decision making to the challenging problem of measuring animal welfare.

Current projects

  • Validation and refinement of cognitive bias-based techniques for assessment of affective state in European starlings (with Dr Ben Brilot).
  • Stereotypy and perseveration in captive European starlings: consequences for decision making. (with Dr Gesa Feenders)
  • Is human anxiety domain-specific? (with Dr Daniel Nettle)

  • Refining research procedures by assessing distress in laboratory rodents. (With Prof P. Flecknell and Claire Richardson)

  • Does pre-operative affective state influence the severity and duration of post-op pain in laboratory rats? (with Prof P. Flecknell and Dr Matt Leach).

My current work is supported by the BBSRC, The Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and The British Academy. In the past I have been funded by the Royal Society.

Visit my ResearcherID on Web of Science:

Other Expertise

Operant techniques with animals (especially birds).
Interval timing.