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A preliminary study of the effects of individual response to challenge tests and stress induced by humans on learning performance of weaned piglets (Sus scrofa)

By S. Brajon, J. P. Laforest, O. Schmitt, N. Devillers

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Abstract

This study investigated whether individual behavioural characteristics of piglets and stress induced by experience with humans can influence learning performance. After weaning, piglets received a chronic experience with humans to modulate their emotional state: rough (ROU), gentle (GEN), or minimal (MIN) experience. Simultaneously, they were trained on a discrimination task. Afterward, their behaviour during challenge tests was assessed. The first learning step of the task involved associating a positive sound cue with a response (approach a trough) and success of piglets depended mostly on motivation to seek for reward. Although the experience with humans did not have direct effect, the degree of fear of handler, measured based on their reactivity to a human approach test, was related to motivation to seek rewards and learning speed of this first step in stressed ROU piglets, but not in MIN and GEN piglets. In contrast, the second learning step was more cognitively challenging, since it involved discrimination learning, including negative cues during which piglets had to learn to avoid the trough. Locomotion activity, measured during an open-field test, was associated with performance of the discrimination learning. To conclude, fearfulness towards humans and locomotion activity are linked with learning performance in relation to task complexity, highlighting the necessity to take into account these factors in animal research and management.

Publication Title Behav Processes
Volume 129
Pages 27-36
ISBN/ISSN 0376-6357
Language English
Author Address Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre, 2000 College street, Sherbrooke, Quebec, J1M 0C8, Canada.Nicolas.Devillers@agr.gc.ca
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Tags
  1. Ability
  2. Agriculture
  3. Animal behavior
  4. Animals
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Behavioral research
  7. Emotions
  8. Fear
  9. Learning
  10. Locomotion
  11. Mammals
  12. Meat animals
  13. motivation
  14. Pigs
  15. Relationships
  16. responses
  17. Stress
  18. Suiformes
  19. training of animals
  20. ungulates
  21. vertebrates
  22. Veterinary sciences