Discrimination learning and judgment bias in low birth weight pigs

Sanne Roelofs, Floor A.C. Alferink, Allyson F. Ipema, Tessa van de Pas, Franz Josef van der Staay, Rebecca E. Nordquist*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Low birth weight (LBW) is a risk factor for cognitive and emotional impairments in humans. In pigs, LBW is a common occurrence, but its effects on cognition and emotion have received only limited scientific attention. To assess whether LBW pigs suffer from impaired cognitive and emotional development, we trained and tested 21 LBW and 21 normal birth weight (NBW) pigs in a judgment bias task. Judgment bias is a measure of emotional state which reflects the influence of emotion on an animal’s interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Pigs were trained to perform a specific behavioral response to two auditory stimuli, predicting either a positive or negative outcome. Once pigs successfully discriminated between these stimuli, they were presented with intermediate, ambiguous stimuli. The pigs’ responses to ambiguous stimuli were scored as optimistic (performance of ‘positive’ response) or pessimistic (performance of ‘negative’ response). Optimistic or pessimistic interpretation of an ambiguous stimulus is indicative of a positive or negative emotional state, respectively. We found LBW pigs to require more discrimination training sessions than NBW pigs to reach criterion performance, suggesting that LBW causes a mild cognitive impairment in pigs. No effects of LBW on judgment bias were found, suggesting a similar emotional state for LBW and NBW pigs. This was supported by comparable salivary and hair cortisol concentrations for both groups. It is possible the enriched housing conditions and social grouping applied during our study influenced these results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-671
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number5
Early online date3 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Ambiguity
  • Birth weight
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive bias
  • Emotion
  • Pigs


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