Emotions on the loose: emotional contagion and the role of oxytocin in pigs

I. Reimert*, J.E. Bolhuis, B. Kemp, T.B. Rodenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


We studied emotional contagion, a simple form of empathy, and the role of oxytocin herein in pigs. Two training pigs per pen (n = 16 pens) were subjected to a positive treatment (pairwise access to a large compartment filled with peat, straw and some chocolate raisins) and a negative treatment (social isolation in a small compartment) in a test room using a within-subjects design. Thereafter, two naive pen mates joined the training pigs in the test room, but were not given access to the treatments. This allowed testing for emotional contagion. Subsequently, the naive pigs, serving as their own controls, were given 24 IU of oxytocin or a placebo intranasally 30 min before accompanying the training pigs, which were exposed to either the negative or positive treatment, to the test room. Behavioral differences found between the positive and negative treatments (e.g., play and “tail wagging” vs. standing alert, urinating, defecating and ears backward) show that the treatments induced a positive and negative emotional state in the training pigs, respectively. Changes in behaviors of the training pigs with and without naive pigs present (e.g., in ears backwards) and of the naive pigs with and without training pigs present (e.g., in standing alert) indicated that emotional contagion occurred, especially during the negative treatment. Oxytocin did not seem to affect the behavior of the treated naive pigs, but did affect behaviors (e.g., defecating) of the training pigs which had not received oxytocin. This suggests a role for oxytocin in pig communication, which merits further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-532
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • social cognition
  • sus-scrofa
  • behavior
  • animals
  • empathy
  • humans
  • responses
  • welfare
  • slaughter
  • distress


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