Effects of environmental enrichment on decision-making behavior in pigs

F.J. van der Staay, Johanna A. van Zutphen, Mirjam M. de Ridder, R.E. Nordquist

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    The animal’s emotional state, potentially modulated by environmental conditions, may affect cognitive processes such as interpretation, judgement and decision making behaviour. The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a common method to examine decision making behavior in humans in terms of risk avoidance and risk taking that reflects the underlying emotional state of the subject. In the present study, we investigated the influence of environmental conditions on decision-making in pigs.
    The Pig Gambling task has been developed to assess decision making behavior in pigs,. In this task, the pig can choose between two alternatives. The pigs can make advantageous or disadvantageous choices, where advantageous, low risk choices deliver smaller, but more frequent rewards, whereas disadvantageous, high risk choices yield larger, but less frequent rewards. In the long run, over a series of successive trials, the advantageous choices will yield more reward and less punishment, where punishment consists of delivering reward into the central food trough, but making it inaccessible.
    After habituation to testing apparatus and testing methods over the course of approximately 4 weeks, all pigs learned to discriminate between the advantageous and disadvangeous alternatives (acquisition phase) by the age of 9 weeks. After a 14-week retention interval, at the age of 24 weeks, retention performance was tested (retention phase). In both phases, 20 trials per day were given to a total of 120 trials. Saliva and hair samples were collected once at the end of both phases for determining cortisol, and body mass was measured at the end of the retention phase.
    The pigs increased the number of advantageous choices during the course of training. In the acquisition phase, barren-housed pigs chose the advantageous options more often compared to environmentally enriched pigs. No differences werer found during the retention phase. All pigs made less advantageous choices at the start of the retention phase than at the end of the acquisition phase. The level of hair cortisol was higher in the barrenhoused than in the enriched-housed pigs. This difference was more pronounced after acquisition than after retention testing. No other differences were found for cortisol in saliva and hair. The environments did not differentially affect body mass at the end of the study. Summarizing, housing in a barren environment appears to
    be more stressful than housing in an enriched environment, as indicated by higher hair cortisol levels in barrenhoused pigs, but it also improved acquisition of the PGT.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14–23
    Number of pages9
    JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


    • Barren environment
    • Enriched environment
    • Decision-making
    • Animal welfare
    • Stress
    • Hair cortisol
    • Salivary cortisol


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