Department of Behavioural Biology
Institute of Neuro- and Behavioural Biology
D-48149 Münster, Germany
Tel.: +49 251 83-21004
The Future’s So Bright: Causes of optimistic and pessimistic interpretation biases and their consequences for niche choice in laboratory rodents
The project is embedded in the collaborative research centre TRR-212. The CRC focuses on three mechanisms of adaptation: niche choice, niche conformance and niche construction (NC3). In a new approach to the concept, niches are viewed on the individual rather than on the population level only. Thus, the investigation of individual differences is the central research goal. Against this background, the PhD project aims at examining the causes and consequences of individual cognitive judgement biases on niche choice in laboratory rodents. Cognitive judgement bias describes the influence of emotional states on the interpretation of ambiguous cues and is long known from human psychological research. Often quoted is the popular question “Is the glass half full or half empty?”. The answer to this question allows a distinction in “optimists” and “pessimists”. This framework was transferred to animal welfare science to assess emotional states in animals. However, while past research focused mainly on the causes of differences in judgement bias, the ecological consequences are not well understood. Being optimistic or pessimistic could in fact represent a strategy which could have a great influence on an individual’s fitness.
The first part of my project aims at clarifying the consistency of an individual’s optimism level. Thus, the stability over the lifetime of laboratory rats and the influence of negative and positive experiences on their optimism levels will be investigated. Understanding the flexibility of different optimism levels is important for the second aim of the project, the consequence of individual differences in optimism levels on niche choice. After determination of individual optimism levels, rats will be kept long-term in a semi-natural environment which simulates different environmental niches. The behaviour of the rats will then be tracked using state-of-the-art technology.