The value of agency in animal exploration

Prof Sam Solomon (primary)
Experimental Psychology
University College London
Dr Elisabetta Versace (secondary)
Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology
Queen Mary University of London


Why are some objects more interesting and attract exploration while others are neglected? In this project the student will test the hypothesis that animals are attracted to animate objects – agents – and ask how activity in the brain may might represent that sense of agency. To investigate whether the focus on agents is a general principle, we will conduct behavioural and electrophysiological studies in mice and chicks engaged in a virtual reality environment built by the student.


De Franceschi G, Vivattanasarn T, Saleem AB, Solomon SG (2016) Vision Guides Selection of Freeze or Flight Defense Strategies in Mice. Curr Biol 26:2150–2154.

Hébert M, Versace E, Vallortigara G (2019) Inexperienced preys know when to flee or to freeze in front of a threat. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Versace E, Martinho-Truswell A, Kacelnik A, Vallortigara G (2018) Priors in Animal and Artificial Intelligence: Where Does Learning Begin? Trends Cogn Sci 22:963–925.

Lopes et al. (2021) Creating and controlling visual environments using BonVision. eLife.

Procacci NM, Allen KM, Robb GE, Ijekah R, Hoy JL (2020) Experience-dependent refinement of natural approach responses towards specific visual stimuli in mice. bioRxiv doi:

Animal disease, health and welfare
Area of Biology
Techniques & Approaches
Image ProcessingMathematics / StatisticsMicroscopy / ElectrophysiologySimulation / Modelling