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Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Humans and animals show increased attention towards threatening stimuli when they are in increased states of anxiety. The few animal studies that have examined this phenomenon, known as attention bias, have applied environmental manipulations to induce anxiety but the effects of drug-induced anxiety levels on attention bias have not been demonstrated. Here, we present an attention bias test to identify high and low anxiety states in sheep using pharmacological manipulation. Increased anxiety was induced using 1-methyl-chlorophenylpiperazine (m-CPP) and decreased anxiety with diazepam, and then we examined the behaviour of sheep in response to the presence of a dog as a threat. Increased attention towards the threat and increased vigilance were shown in sheep that received the m-CPP and reduced in sheep receiving the diazepam. The modulated attention towards a threat displayed by the m-CPP and diazepam animals suggests that attention bias can assess different levels of anxiety in sheep. Measuring attention bias has the potential to improve animal welfare assessment protocols.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lee C, Verbeek E, Doyle R, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biology Letters

Year: 2016

Volume: 12

Issue: 6

Print publication date: 01/06/2016

Online publication date: 08/06/2016

Acceptance date: 16/05/2016

Date deposited: 01/02/2017

ISSN (print): 1744-9561

ISSN (electronic): 1744-957X

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0977


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Funder referenceFunder name
Animal Welfare Science Centre, the University of Melbourne
CSIRO Office of the Chief Executive
BB/J016446/1UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
NC/K000802/1National Centre for the 3Rs
BB/J016446/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)