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Domestic pigs’ (Sus scrofa domestica) use of direct and indirect visual and auditory cues in an object choice task

Abstract

Recently, foraging strategies have been linked to the ability to use indirect visual information. More selective feeders should express a higher aversion against losses compared to non-selective feeders and should therefore be more prone to avoid empty food locations. To extend these findings, in this study, we present a series of studies investigating the use of direct and indirect visual and auditory information by an omnivorous but selective feeder—the domestic pig. Subjects had to choose between two buckets, with only one containing a reward. Before making a choice, the subjects in Experiment 1 (N = 8) received full information regarding both the baited and non-baited location, either in a visual or auditory domain. In this experiment, the subjects were able to use visual but not auditory cues to infer the location of the reward spontaneously. Additionally, four individuals learned to use auditory cues after a period of training. In Experiment 2 (N = 8), the pigs were given different amounts of visual information about the content of the buckets—lifting either both of the buckets (full information), the baited bucket (direct information), the empty bucket (indirect information) or no bucket at all (no information). The subjects as a group were able to use direct and indirect visual cues. However, over the course of the experiment, the performance dropped to chance level when indirect information was provided. A final experiment (N = 3) provided preliminary results for pigs’ use of indirect auditory information to infer the location of a reward. We conclude that pigs at a very young age are able to make decisions based on indirect information in the visual domain, whereas their performance in the use of indirect auditory information warrants further investigation.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Heike Stegmayr for drawing the set-up and Jan Langbein for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We are grateful for the comments of two anonymous reviewers which improved the manuscript significantly.

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Correspondence to Christian Nawroth.

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Nawroth, C., von Borell, E. Domestic pigs’ (Sus scrofa domestica) use of direct and indirect visual and auditory cues in an object choice task. Anim Cogn 18, 757–766 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0842-8

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Keywords

  • Domestic pig
  • Exclusion performance
  • Object choice
  • Indirect information