Prosocial pigs: Behavioral and hormonal indicators of social relationships and cooperation in Domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus)

Contact: Dr. Liza Rose Moscovice


Funding: Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

Domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) are social animals who exhibit high levels of social cognition (Marino and Colvin, 2015), evidence for preferred social partners (Camerlink & Turner, 2013) and cope better with stressors when they have social support (Kanitz et al., 2014, Kanitz et al. 2016). Despite growing awareness of their complex social lives, there has been relatively little research to determine whether pigs exhibit stable and enduring preferences to interact with specific social partners, or to investigate the extent to which pigs show prosociality, referring to the motivation to help others (Cronin, 2012). The goals of this project are to: 1) Test for stable and enduring social preferences in pigs, 2) Determine whether pigs exhibit evidence for prosociality, and whether motivation to help is influenced by the quality of social relationships and 3) Identify non-invasive biomarkers of sociality and cooperation, focusing on the neuropeptide hormone oxytocin (OXT) and measures of heart rate and its variability (HRV). This project will advance basic research into the social lives of farm animals and in doing so will advance research into highly conserved biological mechanisms underlying sociality and cooperation more broadly across taxa. Results will contribute to pig welfare by increasing awareness of social enrichment needs and identifying non-invasive behavioral and physiological indicators of positive social environments and interactions for domestic pigs.