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Working and reference memory of pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) in a holeboard spatial discrimination task: the influence of environmental enrichment

Abstract

Interest in cognitive research in pigs is increasing, but little is known about the impact of environmental conditions on pigs’ cognitive capabilities. The present study investigated the effect of environmental enrichment on cognitive performance of pigs in a holeboard spatial task, in which they had to discriminate four baited buckets out of 16. Pigs (n = 32) were either housed in stimulus-poor, barren pens, or in larger pens enriched with rooting substrates. Pigs were subjected to 30 holeboard trials. Both working memory (WM), that is, the ratio (baited visits/total number of (re)visits to baited buckets), and reference memory (RM), that is, the ratio ((re)visits to baited buckets/total number of visits to all buckets), improved over trials. WM scores were higher in pigs from enriched pens than in pigs from barren pens. Housing did not affect RM scores. Personality type of the pigs, as assessed early in life using a backtest, did not affect WM or RM. In conclusion, housing conditions of pigs did not affect reference memory, but environmental enrichment improved working memory of pigs in a spatial discrimination task. Based on the findings of this study, we suggest that cognitive functioning of pigs may be impaired under commonly used housing conditions.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Esther van de Hoek and the personnel of experimental farm ‘De Haar’.

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Correspondence to J. Elizabeth Bolhuis.

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Elizabeth Bolhuis, J., Oostindjer, M., Hoeks, C.W.F. et al. Working and reference memory of pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) in a holeboard spatial discrimination task: the influence of environmental enrichment. Anim Cogn 16, 845–850 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0646-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0646-7

Keywords

  • Spatial learning
  • Memory
  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Pigs
  • Personality