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Dairy Calves Are Natural Optimists or Pessimists, Just Like Us
Some calves are inherently optimistic or pessimistic, just as humans are, a new University of British Columbia study has found.
Recognizing these individual personality differences is important to ensure animals are treated well, says professor Marina von Keyserlingk, who led the research team from UBC's animal welfare program in the faculty of land and food systems.
"Sometimes we are tempted to see only the herd, even though this herd consists of different individuals who cope differently with stressful events," said von Keyserlingk. "It's important to consider the individual's perspective, because even if conditions are good, on average, some animals may still suffer."
To gauge optimism and pessimism, the researchers set up an experiment involving 22 calves. Before they started the experiment, they trained the calves to understand which of their choices would lead to a reward. In the training, each calf entered a small pen and found a wall with five holes arranged in a horizontal line, two-and-a-half feet apart. The hole at one end contained milk from a bottle, while the hole at the opposite end contained only an empty bottle and delivered a puff of air in calves' faces. The calves learned quickly which side of the pen held the milk reward.
Once calves were trained, researchers presented bottles in one of the three intermediate holes, so that calves couldn't be sure if they would be rewarded with milk. The researchers predicted that the most optimistic calves would approach the bottle even if it were positioned close to the location that earlier gave them an empty bottle and puff of air. In contrast, the most pessimistic calves would avoid approaching a bottle in the intermediate holes, even if it were close to the rewarded location.
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