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Animals 2018, 8(9), 149; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8090149

Weak General but No Specific Habituation in Anticipating Stimuli of Presumed Negative and Positive Valence by Weaned Piglets

1
Centre for Proper Housing of Ruminants and Pigs, Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, Agroscope, Tänikon, CH-8356 Ettenhausen, Switzerland
2
Animal Behaviour, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland
3
Animal Husbandry, Albrecht Daniel Thaer-Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Philippstraße 13, D-10115 Berlin, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 18 June 2018 / Revised: 20 August 2018 / Accepted: 20 August 2018 / Published: 22 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Emotion)
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Simple Summary

Everyday experience shows that getting used to negative events is difficult, whereas positive events are quickly taken for granted. This is relevant for basic questions on how we and other animals deal with emotional events. It has also practical implications because we would like to avoid negative events as much as possible and increase the positive events for animals in our care. Here, we repeatedly treated pairs of piglets with a variety of presumed negative, intermediate and positive events and measured their restlessness as well as the reaction of the autonomic nervous system, while the piglets expected these events. We found limited evidence that the reactions of the piglets changed in a systematic way with more repetitions of the different events. Both our experimental set-up and measurements have been used in similar ways before. Therefore, it is likely that we did not find a consistent pattern because we had not correctly assessed the negativity-positivity of the events used or their intensity from the point of view of the piglets.

Abstract

Positive and negative stimuli have asymmetric fitness consequences. Whereas, a missed opportunity may be compensated, an unattended threat can be fatal. This is why it has been hypothesised that habituation to positive stimuli is fast while it may be difficult to habituate to negative stimuli, at least for primary (innate) stimuli. However, learning of secondary stimuli may delay the process of habituation. Here, we tested 64 weaned piglets in pairs. In three phases, lasting one week each, piglets were exposed five times to a stimulus of presumed negative, intermediate, or positive valence. Etho-physiological measurements of heart rate, heart rate variability, and general movement activity were collected during the last 4 min before the confrontation with the stimulus (anticipation phase). We found no consistent effect of the interaction between the valence of the stimuli and the repetition and a main effect of valence on our outcome variables. Therefore, we could neither support the hypothesis that piglets habituate more slowly to secondary positive stimuli than to primary negative stimuli nor that they habituate less to primary negative stimuli when compared with other stimuli. These results could have been caused because stimuli may not have differed in the presumed way, the experimental design may not have been adequate, or the measures were not suitable for detecting habituation to the stimuli. Based on the stimuli used here and their valence that was only presumed, we could not support the hypothesis that the habituation process differs according to the valence of the stimuli. View Full-Text
Keywords: pigs; habituation; valence; stimuli pigs; habituation; valence; stimuli
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Henzen, A.; Gygax, L. Weak General but No Specific Habituation in Anticipating Stimuli of Presumed Negative and Positive Valence by Weaned Piglets. Animals 2018, 8, 149.

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