The valence of the long-lasting emotional experiences with various handlers modulates discrimination and generalization of individual humans in sheep1

Abstract : Between-farm variation in animal reactions to humans can reflect different management styles and behavioral tendencies among farmers. Animals are well known to discriminate among humans, but less clear is the key issue of whether they more or less easily generalize their experience from specific humans to others depending on management style. Here, we chose 2 contrasted management styles by known handlers: “gentle” management, that is, long-lasting exposure to positive human interactions (with limited negative interactions), and “aversive” management including long-lasting exposure to various negative human interactions (with only food delivery considered a positive interaction) and aversive events. Over a period of 19 wk, 15 female lambs were exposed to the gentle management treatment (“gently treated” group) and another 15 lambs (“aversively treated” group) were exposed to the aversive management treatment. To facilitate discrimination by animals, experimenters wore white clothes for aversive events and green clothes for farming handling (positive handling and feeding for the gently treated group and only feeding for the aversively treated group). Sheep perception of the human was assessed after the management period by submitting lambs from each group to 2 standardized tests: 1) the presence of a stationary human (familiar human in white vs. familiar human in green vs. unknown human) and 2) the presence of a moving human (familiar human in white vs. familiar human in green vs. unknown human). As expected, during the stationary human test, aversively treated lambs spent less time in the human zone (P < 0.0001), showed greater latency to approach the human (P = 0.05), and had fewer contacts with the human (P = 0.05) than gently treated lambs. During the moving human test, aversively treated lambs also showed a greater escape distance from humans than gently treated lambs (P < 0.0001). Aversively treated lambs showed the same fear responses towards familiar and unknown humans and tended to generalize their aversive experiences with one handler to all humans. In contrast, gently treated lambs seemed to discriminate familiar humans from unfamiliar humans. Different management styles could modulate farm generalization to humans in farm animals.
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Alexandra Destrez, Marjorie Coulon, Veronique Deiss, Eric Delval, Alain Boissy, et al.. The valence of the long-lasting emotional experiences with various handlers modulates discrimination and generalization of individual humans in sheep1. Journal of Animal Science, American Society of Animal Science, 2013, 91 (11), pp.5418 - 5426. ⟨10.2527/jas.2012-5654⟩. ⟨hal-01921783⟩

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