December 20, 2016 - Mood and Personality Affect Decisions of Pigs

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - As swine management continues to adapt to changing housing situations, swine behavior also continues to gain importance.

A new study — conducted by researchers at the University of Lincoln and Newcastle University — demonstrates, for the first time, that the combined mood and personality of an animal have a significant impact on its outlook.

The study was designed to explore how mood and personality affect how optimistic or pessimistic pigs are. The researchers found that just like people, domesticated pigs are more likely to have a pessimistic outlook on life if they are in a bad mood.

The personalities of pigs are deemed to be either "proactive" or "reactive"; proactivity in pigs is characterized by more active conduct and a consistency of behavior, whereas reactivity in pigs is often indicated by passive behavior and being more changeable in their responses.

The pigs were housed in one of two environments known to influence their mood and were trained to associate two separate feeding bowls with different outcomes. One contained sugar-coated sweets (representing a positive outcome), and the other contained coffee beans (a negative outcome). When a third "ambiguous" bowl was introduced, the researchers observed whether or not the pigs approached the third feeding bowl expecting more sweets (another positive outcome), thus showing how optimistic or pessimistic each pig was.

Pigs with a proactive personality were more likely to respond optimistically regardless, but the optimism of the reactive pigs was significantly affected by their mood. Reactive pigs living in a more enriched environment, which is known to contribute to a "good mood," were much more likely to be optimistic about the new feeding bowl.

Project leader Lisa Collins, from the University of Lincoln's School of Life Sciences, explained, "The results of our study clearly show that those pigs living in a worse environment were more pessimistic, and those in a better environment were much more optimistic.

Lead author Dr. Lucy Asher from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University added, "Our results suggest that judgment in pigs, and potentially in other animals, is similar to humans — incorporating aspects of stable personality traits and more transient mood states. The study ... paves the way for even more in-depth studies in the future."

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