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Conditioned approach-avoidance responses to humans: the ability of pigs to associate feeding and aversive social experiences in the presence of humans with humans

By P. H. Hemsworth, J. Verge, G. J. Coleman

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Abstract

A series of experiments were conducted to determine whether pigs learn to associate rewarding or aversive elements of a procedure with the handler conducting the procedure. Experiment 1 was conducted to examine whether sexually unreceptive female pigs regularly introduced to boars in their accommodation pens for oestrus detection learn to associate the aversive elements of this procedure with the experimenter conducting the procedure. Experiment 2 was conducted to examine whether pigs fed by an experimenter learn to associate the rewarding elements of this procedure with the experimenter conducting the procedure. Two other treatments were imposed in each experiment as controls: pigs received human contact similar to that in the husbandry procedure, or pigs received minimal human contact. To examine whether gilts learnt to associate the rewarding or aversive elements of the procedures with the presence of humans, the approach behaviour of all pigs to the familiar experimenter and an unfamiliar experimenter was observed in a standard human approach test at the end of each experiment. In experiment 1, the apparent aversive experiences associated with introduction to boars in a confined area had no effects on the subsequent approach behaviour of the pigs to the experimenter in the standard test conducted after 5 weeks of treatment. In experiment 2, pigs that were fed in the presence of the experimenter were quicker to closely approach the experimenter in the standard test conducted after 6 weeks of treatment. In both experiments there was no difference in the approach behaviour of handled pigs to the familiar and unfamiliar handlers. The results indicate that pigs associate a rewarding experience of feeding with the handler and that this conditioning results in pigs being less fearful of the handler and other humans. In contrast, pigs receiving frequent positive handling failed to associate the aversive elements of an oestrus detection procedure with the handler.

Date 1996
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 50
Issue 1
Pages 71-82
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Victorian Institute of Animal Science, Department of Agriculture, 475 Mickleham Rd., Attwood, Victoria 3049, Australia.
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Feeding
  6. Feeding behavior
  7. Handling
  8. Learning
  9. Learning ability
  10. Learning capacity
  11. Mammals
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. Primates
  14. responses
  15. Stress
  16. Swine
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  1. peer-reviewed