Weak General but No Specific Habituation in Anticipating Stimuli of Presumed Negative and Positive Valence by Weaned Piglets

Animals (Basel). 2018 Aug 22;8(9):149. doi: 10.3390/ani8090149.


Positive and negative stimuli have asymmetric fitness consequences. Whereas, a missed opportunity may be compensated, an unattended threat can be fatal. This is why it has been hypothesised that habituation to positive stimuli is fast while it may be difficult to habituate to negative stimuli, at least for primary (innate) stimuli. However, learning of secondary stimuli may delay the process of habituation. Here, we tested 64 weaned piglets in pairs. In three phases, lasting one week each, piglets were exposed five times to a stimulus of presumed negative, intermediate, or positive valence. Etho-physiological measurements of heart rate, heart rate variability, and general movement activity were collected during the last 4 min before the confrontation with the stimulus (anticipation phase). We found no consistent effect of the interaction between the valence of the stimuli and the repetition and a main effect of valence on our outcome variables. Therefore, we could neither support the hypothesis that piglets habituate more slowly to secondary positive stimuli than to primary negative stimuli nor that they habituate less to primary negative stimuli when compared with other stimuli. These results could have been caused because stimuli may not have differed in the presumed way, the experimental design may not have been adequate, or the measures were not suitable for detecting habituation to the stimuli. Based on the stimuli used here and their valence that was only presumed, we could not support the hypothesis that the habituation process differs according to the valence of the stimuli.

Keywords: habituation; pigs; stimuli; valence.