Socialisation and its effect on play behaviour and aggression in the domestic pig (Sus scrofa)
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There is considerable interest in how early life experiences shape behavioural development. For example, the socialisation of unfamiliar pigs pre-weaning has been suggested to decrease aggression during later life. However, the behavioural mechanisms behind this socialisation effect remain unexplored. We allowed 12 litters of domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) to move freely between their home pen and a neighbouring pen (socialisation) during the lactation period, while keeping 12 litters isolated in their home pen (control). Contrary to predictions, socialisation did not result in higher levels of social play. However, control individuals engaged in more sow directed play than those that underwent socialisation. Consistent with predictions, males performed more piglet directed play than females. Social play behaviour pre-weaning was found to be highly concordant within individuals from both treatments. Post-weaning, 148 pigs were selected to perform two resident-intruder tests to assay aggressiveness. As predicted, socialised individuals were quicker to attack than controls, although females were more aggressive than males. Additionally, play fighting experience was found to negatively correlate with attack latency in females, supporting the hypothesis that early-life play experience is likely to be sexually dimorphic when males and females show pronounced differences in their later-life social behaviour.
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