Spatial learning in pigs: effects of environmental enrichment and individual characteristics on behaviour and performance

J. Jansen, J.E. Bolhuis, W.G.P. Schouten, B.M. Spruijt, V.M. Wiegant

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42 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated the effects of both environmental enrichment and individual behavioural characteristics on spatial cognitive capabilities of pigs, using a novel latent spatial learning paradigm based on Tolman's detour experiments (1948). Pigs were housed either in 'barren' pens or in pens enriched with straw bedding from birth. Pigs were restrained in a Backtest at 10 and 17 days postpartum. Based on their escape behaviour in this test, which has been shown to reflect their behavioural style, six 'high-resisting' (HR) and six 'low-resisting' (LR) pigs were selected from each housing environment (n = 24 in total). At 12 weeks of age, pairs of pen mates (LR and HR) were exposed to a maze three times (exploration trials). Pigs were then placed individually in the maze, and social reinstatement proved to be a strong incentive to find the exit leading to the home pen. We subsequently blocked the direct route to the exit, forcing animals to find a detour (memory test 1, MT1). This test was repeated once to investigate the relative improvement, i.e. detour learning (memory test 2, MT2). Housing condition and Backtest response strongly affected exploration patterns. In spite of this, no effects on performance during the subsequent memory tests were found. Performance was substantially improved in MT2, indicating that once a goal is apparent, pigs are able to solve a complex spatial memory task easily. In conclusion, social reinstatement provided a good incentive to complete a spatial task, and the substantial improvement in performance between MT1 and MT2 stresses the need for task complexity when testing spatial memory in pigs. Housing conditions or individual behavioural style did not affect spatial memory during MT1 or MT2. However, housing environment and behavioural style strongly affected explorative behaviour of pigs in an unfamiliar maze during both exploration trials and memory tests. This implicates that apparent effects of environmental enrichment on spatial learning and memory in pigs might reflect differences in explorative patterns rather than in cognitive processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-315
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • different coping characteristics
  • ranging domestic pigs
  • physiological-responses
  • detour behavior
  • growing pigs
  • rearing conditions
  • stress responses
  • female mice
  • sus-scrofa
  • memory


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