Institute of Neuroscience

Staff Profile

Professor Melissa Bateson

Professor of Ethology

Background

Introduction

I am an ethologist with a strong track record in theoretically motivated empirical research on the behaviour of both human and non-human animals. My current research is focused on understanding how stressful lifetime experience, and specifically early-life adversity, alters behaviour, cognition and biomarkers of health and well-being in a range of species including starlings, rhesus macaques and humans. I am committed to improving openness and transparency in behavioural science and evidence-based improvements in the welfare of captive animals.

Roles and Responsibilities

Director the university Centre for Behaviour and Evolution (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/cbe/)

Qualifications

1990: MA in Zoology with Biological Anthropology (University of Oxford, first class honours)
1993 DPhil in Animal Behaviour (Department of Zoology, University of Oxford)

Previous Positions

2009-2012 Reader in Ethology (Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University)

2007- 2009 University lecturer (Department of Psychology, Newcastle University)

1998-2007 Royal Society University Research Fellow (Newcastle University).
1995-1998 Wellcome Advanced Training Fellow (University of Oxford/ Duke University).
1993-1995 Postdoctoral RA, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

Memberships

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour
International Society for Comparative Cognition
Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare

Area of expertiseAnimal and human behaviour, cognition, emotions, telomere dynamics and other biomarkers of stress exposure, applications to antisocial behaviour, overeating and obesity and animal welfare.

Google Scholar: Click here.

Research

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 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 selection has shaped decisions, whereas the study of mechanism involves trying to unravel the cognitive, and perhaps ultimately the neural mechanisms 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 field and lab (in collaboration with Alex Kacelnik, Candy Rowe, John Skelhorn and latterly Daniel Nettle), 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

COMSTAR (https://www.danielnettle.org.uk/comstar/)

    Refining weaning age in rhesus macaques.



    My current work is funded by the NC3Rs (rhesus macaques) and the European Research Council (starlings and humans via ERC Advanced Grant to Daniel Nettle on which I am primary collaborator).



    Current postgraduate supervision

    Janire Castellano Bueno (Secondary supervisor; co-supervised with Dr Colline Poirier, Newcastle University). 2018-

    David Massey (Primary supervisor; co-supervised by Dr Claire Witham at the Centre for Macaques): 'Refining weaning age in macaques destined for neuroscience research'. Funded by an NC3Rs studentship. 2019 -

    Elena Collaro (Secondary supervisor; co-supervised with Dr Michael Lewis, Philosophy, Newcastle University and Prof Rob Barton, Anthropology, Durham University). 'Mental time travel and time perception in nonhuman animals: a critical approach'. Funded by a Northern Bridge studentship from HSSRC. 2019 -

    Esteem Indicators

    • Member of the International Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2018-22.
    • Secretary of the Grants Committee for the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour 2016-19.
    • ERC Advanced Grants panel member LS8 (Evolution, population and environmental biology) 2016-18.
    • BBSRC Deputy Chair of Research Committee A (2012-2014).

    • Royal Society University Research Fellow 1998-2007

    Teaching

    Undergraduate Teaching

    • PSY2006 Animal Cognition (module leader and primary lecturer)
    • PSY3097/3096 Psychology empirical project supervisor

    Postgraduate Teaching (MRes)

    • MMB8045: Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare (contributor)
    • Research project supervisor.

    Publications