Once bitten, twice shy: aggressive and defeated pigs begin agonistic encounters with more negative emotions

LS Oldham*, Gareth Arnott, Irene Camerlink, Andrea Doeschl-Wilson, Marianne Farish, Francoise Wemelsfelder, Simon P Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
85 Downloads (Pure)


Aggression between unfamiliar commercial pigs is common and likely invokes strong emotions in contestants. Furthermore, contest outcomes affect subsequent aggressive behaviour, suggesting a potential lasting influence on affective state. Here we used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to assess the emotional expression of pigs in agonistic encounters. We investigated how recent victory or defeat influences emotions expressed in a subsequent contest, and the role of aggressiveness as a personality trait in emotional expression. We observed the pre-escalation contest behaviour (second contest; age 13 wks) in animals of different aggressiveness (categorised using two resident intruder tests as Agg+ or Agg-, age 9 wks), which had recently won or lost a contest (first contest; 10 wks). We measured gaze direction and ear position. Observers watched video clips of the initial 30 s of the second contest and evaluated the emotional expression of 57 pigs (25 contest 1 winners, 32 contest 1 losers) using qualitative behavioural assessment (QBA) with a fixed list of 20 descriptive terms.

QBA identified three principal components (PCs), accounting for 68% of the variation: PC1 (agitated/tense to relaxed/content), PC2 (fearful/aimless to confident/enjoying) and PC3 (listless/ indifferent). Agg- pigs and males showed a more positive emotionality (PC2). PC1 and PC3 were unaffected by first contest outcome and aggressiveness. Agg+ pigs were more likely to hold their ears back (X2=7.8, p=0.005) during the early contest period. Differences in attention were detected in the contest outcome × aggressiveness interaction (χ24.3, p=0.04), whereby approaching the opponent was influenced by winning and losing in the Agg- pigs only. QBA and gaze behaviour reveal differences in emotional valence between pigs of different aggressiveness: less aggressive pigs may be more susceptible to the emotional impact of victory and defeat but overall, more aggressive pigs express more negative emotionality at the start of agonistic encounters.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105488
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Early online date16 Oct 2021
Publication statusPrint publication - Nov 2021


  • Aggression
  • Emotion
  • Gaze
  • Pig
  • QBA


Dive into the research topics of 'Once bitten, twice shy: aggressive and defeated pigs begin agonistic encounters with more negative emotions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this