Effects of early life and current housing on sensitivity to reward loss in a successive negative contrast test in pigs

L. Luo, I. Reimert, E.A.M. Graat, S. Smeets, B. Kemp, J.E. Bolhuis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Animals in a negative affective state seem to be more sensitive to reward loss, i.e. an unexpected decrease in reward size. The aim of this study was to investigate whether early-life and current enriched vs. barren housing conditions affect the sensitivity to reward loss in pigs using a successive negative contrast test. Pigs (n = 64 from 32 pens) were housed in barren or enriched conditions from birth onwards, and at 7 weeks of age experienced either a switch in housing conditions (from barren to enriched or vice versa) or not. Allotting pigs to the different treatments was balanced for coping style (proactive vs. reactive). One pig per pen was trained to run for a large reward and one for a small reward. Reward loss was introduced for pigs receiving the large reward after 11 days (reward downshift), i.e. from then onwards, they received the small reward. Pigs housed in barren conditions throughout life generally had a lower probability and higher latency to get the reward than other pigs. Proactive pigs ran overall slower than reactive pigs. After the reward downshift, all pigs ran slower. Nevertheless, reward downshift increased the latency and reduced the probability to get to the reward, but only in pigs exposed to barren conditions in early life, which thus were more sensitive to reward loss than pigs from enriched early life housing. In conclusion, barren housed pigs seemed overall less motivated for the reward, and early life housing conditions had long-term effects on the sensitivity to reward loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-130
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Affective state
  • Coping style
  • Early life
  • Enrichment
  • Pigs
  • Reward loss


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