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Behavioural lateralization in domestic pigs (Sus scrofa)—variations between motor functions and individuals

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Motor lateralization is hypothesized to depend on the complexity of the motor function, but it might at the same time reflect hemispheric dominance within an individual across motor functions. We investigated possible motor lateralization patterns in four motor functions of different complexity (snout use in a manipulative task, foot use in two-stepping tasks and tail curling) in the domestic pig, a tetrapod species relevant as farm animal but also as a model in human neuroscience. A significant majority of our sample showed individual biases for manipulation with their snout and for curling their tail. Interestingly, the tail curling was lateralized towards the right at the population level and showed stronger lateralization patterns than the snout. Using a cluster analysis with combined tail and snout laterality, we identified groups of individuals with different lateralization patterns across motor functions that potentially reflect the individuals’ hemispheric dominance. To conclude, our results suggest that pigs show lateralization patterns that depend on the motor function and on the individual. Such individual lateralization patterns might have broader implications for animal personality and welfare. Our study lays the methodological groundwork for future research on laterality in pigs.
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Keywords: Task complexity; foot; motor lateralization; snout; tail curling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Behavioural Physiology, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), Dummerstorf, Germany 2: Institute of Genetics and Biometry, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), Dummerstorf, Germany

Publication date: September 3, 2018

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