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).

Brajon, S., LaForest, J.-P., Schmitt, O., and Devillers, N. (2016). "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).", Behavioural Processes, 129, pp. 27-36. doi : 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.05.007  Access to full text

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.

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