Confirmed speakers

·      Emily Bethell (Liverpool)

·      Lubor Kostal (Bratislava)

·      Susannah Murphy (Oxford)

·      Karolina Noworyta-Sokolowska (Krakow)

·      Zofia Prokop (Krakow)

·       Emma Robinson (Bristol)

·      Rafal Rygula (Krakow)

·      Janna Vrijsen (Nijmegen)

·      Reinout Wiers (Amsterdam)

·      Catharine Winstanley (Vancouver)








Dr Emily Bethell

Research Centre in Brain and Behaviour

School of Natural Sciences and Psychology

Liverpool John Moores University

Liverpool, UK


Studying cognitive bias in non-human primates: emerging trends and future directions


Reliable methods to measure cognitive components of wellbeing are receiving increased attention. ‘Cognitive bias’ tasks, for example, are used to assess different emotion states based on how animals respond to ambiguity– negative emotions, it is argued, lead to negative judgements about ambiguous information. These methods have now been developed for use with a wide range of species including mammals, birds and insects. While these methods show much promise, there are still limitations in their application across different research contexts, and published findings are variable. I have been developing complementary tasks that require less initial training and which should have more utility for assessing animal emotions in real world settings. I will review studies we have conducted with nonhuman primates in both free-ranging and laboratory settings and discuss our early data showing potential mediating effects of early life stress and genetic factors. As a still-emerging field, I discuss future directions for this area of research including their potential use for assessing positive affect.








Dr Lubor Kostal

Vice Director

Centre of Biosciences

Institute of Animal Biochemistry and Genetics

Slovak Academy of Sciences

Bratislava, Slovakia


Studying affect induced judgement bias in birds

Ľubor Košťál, Zuzana Skalná, Katarína Pichová

Harding et al. (2004) in their pivotal study introduced the idea of using the link between cognition and emotions for the assessment of affective states in animals. Soon after that, the first studies of affect-induced judgment bias in birds were published, using European starling as a model. Although several other inspiring papers on this subject used songbird species, substantial numbers of published avian cognitive bias studies used poultry species. Variation in design of cognitive bias tests in poultry studies is quite large. Most of the studies use spatial judgement task of Burman et al. (2008). The second approach adopted a Go-Go two choice visual discrimination task of Brilot et al. (2010). The third approach is based on operant Go-NoGo discrimination task, derived from the design of pivotal study of Harding et al. (2004). This is the approach used also in our laboratory (Horvath et al., 2016). We use the custom-built Skinner boxes with touchscreen for training the operant visual discrimination task and subsequent judgement bias testing. Circles in different shades of grey are used as cues. The last, fourth design of judgement bias tests used in poultry is trying to eliminate extensive discrimination training needed before the judgment bias tests itself. To avoid these problems, Salmeto et al. (2011) came up with the original idea: in their experiments with young chicks, they used naturally appetitive (mirror image of chick) and aversive (horned owl silhouette) stimuli in a straight alley maze. As ambiguous cues in the judgement bias test, they used morphed images of a chick and an owl. There is also large variation in the ways affective states (mood) are induced in the above-mentioned poultry studies: housing environment, enrichment, social isolation, different fearfulness, series of aversive events over several days, different temperatures, treatment with corticosterone, or suppression of depression induced by social isolation by the antidepressants. In conclusion, the cognitive bias paradigm is a valuable tool for the assessment of poultry welfare. Nevertheless, existing judgement bias tests need further optimization and validation. Other types of cognitive bias tests, such as the attention and memory bias, represent another promising perspective.







Dr Susannah Murphy

Senior Research Fellow

Department of Psychiatry

University of Oxford, UK


Using experimental models of affective bias to optimise the treatment of depression

Depression is associated with negative affective biases in information processing, including a tendency to focus on, interpret and remember negative information.  These biases are not only relevant to psychological treatment approaches, but also play a role in pharmacological treatment.  Antidepressants have been shown to reduce negative affective bias using both behavioural and neuroimaging measures of emotional processing in healthy volunteers and depressed patients.  These effects on emotional processing are seen early in antidepressant administration and are predictive of later clinical treatment response, suggesting that early changes in emotional processing can serve as valid surrogate markers of therapeutic efficacy.  In collaboration with pharmaceutical industry, we use these cognitive affective bias measures to screen novel candidate treatments for depression in humans, prior to the initiation of large scale randomised controlled trials.  This experimental medicine approach can be used to assist ‘go/no-go’ decision making in antidepressant drug development, and improve subsequent clinical trial design, dosing and stratification.



Mgr Karolina Noworyta - Sokołowska 

Dr Karolina Noworyta-Sokolowska    

Affective cognitive neuroscience lab

Department of Pharmacology

Institute of Pharmacology Polish Academy of Sciences

Krakow, Poland

Using rodents to model abnormal sensitivity to feedback in depression

Depressive disorder accounts for a substantial proportion of psychiatric problems across the globe and has a devastating impact on quality of life and occupational function. Psychological models of depression emphasize the causal role of cognitive distortions in this disease, and cognitive problems have been included in the diagnostic criteria for depressive episodes. In my talk I will focus on recent progress in preclinical modelling of aberrations in one of the most important neurocognitive mechanisms involved in the manifestation of depression – abnormal sensitivity to positive and negative feedback. First, I will summarize the recent advances in understanding neurocognitive mechanisms of aberrant feedback sensitivity in depression and underlying neurobiological substrates. Second, by combining behavioural, neurochemical, neuroanatomical and pharmacological approaches, I will evaluate the translational value of the probabilistic reversal-learning (PRL) task, a behavioural paradigm that enables investigation of correlates of feedback sensitivity in humans and animals. Finally, I will identify and discuss directions for future investigation, including cognitive biomarkers of depression and resilience to stress based on feedback sensitivity and personalized treatment targets.





Dr Zofia Prokop

Faculty of Biology

Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland


Deluded ape. Evolutionary perspective on human cognitive biases, suffering and wellbeing

Subjectively and (increasingly) objectively, we live in a largely made-up world. Subjectively, our perception of the outside world is not a “window on reality as it is”, but rather a mental model constructed using external sensory information as well as internal elements such as memory and genetically determined preconceptions. This modelling process has been shaped by evolution to maximize survival and reproduction - not necessarily the models’ faithfulness to reality. Objectively, vast majority of people – especially the rapidly growing population of city dwellers – live in environments designed and constructed by (other) people. These novel environments are radically different from those in which our perceptual and decision making mechanisms evolved, thus contributing to a number of psychological and societal problems. I will present evolutionary perspectives on (i) the origin and maintenance of biases in perceiving reality and (ii) the mismatches between our cognitive mechanisms and the environments we currently inhabit.






Emma Robinson, FBPhS

Professor of psychopharmacology

School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

Faculty of Life Sciences

University of Bristol, UK

Could modulation of affective biases explain the efficacy of ketamine and other rapid onset antidepressants in major depressive disorder?


The ability of the NMDA antagonist, ketamine, to induce a rapid reduction in the symptoms of depression, in previously treatment resistant patients, has provided an exciting new avenue for the development of a novel class of antidepressant. Ketamine has recently been approved by the FDA however there are concerns about side effects and dependence liability meaning alternative compounds are needed.  Current research has focussed on interaction with the processes of synaptogenesis and AMPA modulation, but these studies are limited by the rodent models of depression, which lack translational validity.  In order to try to better understand the underlying mechanisms, which contribute to ketamine’s efficacy, and hence identify novel drug targets, we have been using rodent models of affective bias.  We first showed, in 2015, that acute ketamine could attenuate previously learnt biases in learning and memory.  These effects were localised to the medial prefrontal cortex.  Using a control assay we have also been able to show that these effects are selective to affective bias and do not involve any general effects on memory.  We found similar effects with the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine suggesting that rapid onset antidepressants may share a common mechanism involving modulation of previously acquired negative affective biases.  We have recently extended this work to show that ketamine also has sustained effects and can modulate biases 24hrs after treatment.  In some preliminary studies looking at the molecular mechanisms underlying ketamine’s acute effects, we have found that they do not require protein synthesis but may involve activation of opioid receptors.






 Dr hab. Rafał Ryguła

Dr hab. Rafal Rygula

Affective cognitive neuroscience lab

Department of Pharmacology

Institute of Pharmacology Polish Academy of Sciences

Krakow, Poland

Pessimism as cognitive biomarker of depression in an animal model

Why for some of us the glass is always half-full, while for the others it is half-empty? How expectations of potential outcomes of our actions could determine our vulnerability to depression? How the effects of antidepressant drugs depend on our cognition? Answers to these questions, although crucial for understanding aetiology of depressive disorder, remain still mostly unanswered.The research presented in my talk has been designed to find answers to these questions and to evaluate of whether cognitive judgement bias measured as a stable and enduring behavioural trait, could be a cognitive biomarker of depression. In our studies, using innovative ambiguous-cue interpretation tests, we identified rats displaying pessimistic and optimistic traits. Subsequently, we tested how these traits interact with other cognitive and physiological processes associated with depressive disorder, such as cognitive flexibility, sensitivity to negative and positive feedback, decision making under uncertainty, decision making under risk, approach and avoidance motivation, sensitivity of dopaminergic system, and immunological functions. In the further steps, we evaluated differences between optimists and pessimists in vulnerability to chronic stress (animal model of depression) and differences in sensitivity to acute and chronic antidepressant treatments. By combining sophisticated behavioural techniques we had a unique opportunity to perform studies that for practical and logistic reasons could not be performed in humans. We report that rats displaying trait pessimism are more prone to the stress-induced anhedonia and stress-induced motivational deficits. They also could be characterised as less motivated to obtain experimental rewards and over-sensitive to negative feedback. Pessimistic animals show decreased propensity to make risky/uncertain choices, are less sensitive to dopaminergic challenges, respond differentially to antidepressant drugs and display pro-inflammatory immunological profile.The results of presented studies in rats suggest that trait pessimism could be a cognitive biomarker of depression also in humans. 





Janna N. Vrijsen, PhD

Senior researcher

Department of Psychiatry

Radboud University Medical Center,

Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Memory bias modification for depression


Depression is characterized by negatively biased cognitive processing. Specifically, there is consistent and compelling evidence for the role of negatively biased memory in the etiology of depression. Negative memory bias is most pronounced for self-relevant information e.g. autobiographical events.​ ​Theory and research on the causal relation between bias and affective symptoms has resulted in the development of Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) techniques. In depression, CBM has mostly focused on the cognitive domains of attention and interpretation, which so far yielded mixed findings. Modifying memory bias hence seemed promising.​ ​Our first proof-of-principle studies on CBM-Memory showed that memory bias can be modified and that the training effect transfers to autobiographical memory and mood. A more recent set of two independent trials in depression-vulnerable individuals, however, showed no transfer to depressive symptoms. As a critical test of the clinical applicability of computer-based CBM-Memory, we are currently applying a four-day protocol to depressed inpatients.​ ​We recently extended this work by creating a daily-life smartphone-based measure of memory bias, in order to increase validity and facilitating transfer of the training effect. This resulted in. First, we validated this new measure in samples of currently, remitted and never-depressed individuals. As a second step, smartphone-based CBM-Memory was developed and was found to affect autobiographical memory. We are currently exploring its clinical relevance by applying smartphone-based CBM-Memory to a dysphoric (i.e. vulnerable) sample. Smartphone-based memory bias assessment and training may provide a valid extension of the memory bias work so far.







Reinout Wiers, Ph.D.

Professor of developmental psychopathology

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


On the Use of Cognitive Bias Modification in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders

Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs) are typically treated with psychosocial treatments and/or medication. However, there is a third category of interventions to consider: varieties of Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM). I will review the current state of affairs. CBM has shown to increase one-year abstinence in several large clinical trials, with effect sizes similar to medication for alcohol (NNT=12). It is also becoming clear for which individuals CBM shows most promise as an add-on treatment (those with a strong cue-reactivity and/or impulsivity), and we are beginning to understand the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying training effects (e.g., reduced cue-reactivity). CBM shows modest but reliable effects as add-on to regular psychosocial treatment, but does not appear to work in the absence of psychosocial treatment, nor in the absence of motivation to change (e.g. in proof-of-principle studies in students). Finally, I will sketch ways forward, such as combining training with neurostimulation.







Catharine Winstanley

Professor in the Department of Psychology and a member of the Centre for Brain Health at the University of British Columbia

Vancouver, Canada

Of rats and men: rodent models of cognitive biases in decision-making and uncertainty