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Social learning of feeding behaviour in pigs: Effects of neophobia and familiarity with the demonstrator conspecific

By Jaime Figueroa, David Solà-Oriol, Xavier Manteca, José Francisco Pérez

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Abstract

Social interactions facilitate animals learning of new features of their environment minimizing a trial and error process. It has been observed in some species that food cues can be acquired by one individual (the observer) from an animal model (demonstrator) due to social learning. Three experiments were performed to evaluate whether weaned piglets may show a preference for a flavoured feed following brief social interactions (30min) with an experienced demonstrator. After the social interaction between demonstrator and observer pigs, a 30-min choice test between the flavoured feed previously eaten by demonstrators (DEM-feed) and other flavoured feed (OTH-feed; Exp. 1 and 2) or a known unflavoured starter diet (Exp. 3) was performed with observer animals. Greater intake of DEM-feed occurred when demonstrators and observers were from the same pen (Exp. 1) or from the same litter (Exp. 2), but not when observers and demonstrators were unfamiliar with each other (Exp. 1). Observers also preferred flavours previously eaten by the demonstrator over their unflavoured diet already known. Social interactions with a conspecific pig that had a recent experience with a flavoured feed enhanced the preference for that feed and could even override neophobia to a new feed. The familiarity of conspecific demonstrators plays a key role in social learning of new feed cues probably due to selective exploration involving closer snout-to-snout contacts with kin conspecifics.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 148
Issue 1
Pages 120-127
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.06.002
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Tags
  1. Family
  2. Feeding behavior
  3. phobias
  4. Pigs
  5. social learning