University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna - Research portal

Diagrammed Link to Homepage University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

Social learning in free-ranging domestic pigs – exploring the roles of different sensory modalities and the identities of observers and demonstrators.

Social learning, the ability to use socially provided information, has an immense value for the success of the individual, but also the species. It can be used as a cheap tool to acquire information, while avoiding costs of individual learning. However, the use of socially provided information must be weighed carefully, as not all behaviour that is shown is necessary or useful and can even be outdated. Furthermore, several factors seem to influence whose information to use, such as kinship, tolerance, age, experience, or dominance. Even though studies provided evidence for the effect of certain aspects of the relationship between observers and demonstrators, little is known about the effects of an individual’s interconnectedness within its social network on the likelihood of information being transmitted from this individual to another. This interconnectedness can be the result of various interacting factors, one of which can be certain personality traits, such as explorativeness or sociability. Fast exploring or ‘proactive’ individuals seem to have shallow social bonds to many individuals of their social network, whereas slow exploring or ‘reactive’ individuals have stronger bonds with fewer individuals of their group. Depending on either the strength or the sheer amount of social bonds, information should be transmitted with different speed and to a different number of individuals of the group. However, personality traits like explorativeness or neophobia can have a strong effect on the likelihood to even be a demonstrating individual. Reactive individuals might not interact with novel objects or foods or react to other novel factors in the environment and will therefore be less likely to be innovators that can act as a model to others. They seem in turn more likely to observe and learn from others, as their individual learning might be impaired in novel situations. Even if new behaviour is shown by an individual to be observed by others, different environmental conditions, as well as species-specific sensory capabilities will determine the transmission of this behaviour. So far, social learning has predominantly been investigated providing only visual cues to the observers. However, the roles of different sensory modalities, especially olfactory or auditory cues remain under-investigated.Within this project, social learning strategies of a highly social species, the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus), are going to be investigated. Pigs have been shown to being able to learn from others, but only few studies have investigated the natural behaviour of adult free-ranging pigs of an established long-term herd instead of sub-adult captive stable pigs. Furthermore, pigs are an ideal model to investigate effects of different sensory cues on social learning abilities, as they seem to be able to learn using visual cues but are certainly better equipped in the olfactory or auditory domain. Therefore, factors involved in the successful transmission of information, such as individual personality traits and relationship qualities within social networks will be investigated, as well as basic effects of sensory capabilities on the acquisition of this information. Furthermore, based on previous experiments, open questions about the effects of social partners and social learning mechanisms will be targeted, to illuminate the processing of information.
Soziales Lernen
Social learning in free-ranging domestic pigs
Project leader
Veit Ariane,
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Comparative Cognition,
Funded by
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Dr. Ignaz Seipel-Platz 2, 1010 Wien, Austria
© University of Veterinary Medicine ViennaHelp and Downloads