Behavioral Research Blog

Julie Harrison

Recent Posts

Implementing Tailored Activity Programs

Posted by Julie Harrison on Aug 2, 2016

Sometimes pharmacological strategies can hurt more than they help. This is why non-pharmacological strategies are meant to be used as the first-line in the treatment of patients, but it can be difficult to tell which strategies should be used with dementia patients in hospitals.

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Topics: Alzheimer's disease, The Observer XT, video observation, doctor patient interaction, video recording, dementia, coding behavior

Mixing sows: the aggression and stress of group housing on first-time sow mother

Posted by Julie Harrison on Sep 4, 2014

Social order is an important part of many animal species’ lives. Social aggression helps determine hierarchy of the animals and which animals are pushed to the bottom of the pecking order. Pigs are mixed into new social groups throughout various stages of production. Therefore, their hierarchies have the opportunity to change numerous times during their lives. In this experiment, Ison and colleagues looked at the social interaction when a mixed group of primiparous and older, unfamiliar sows were placed in group housing together.

Why group housing?

Pig farmers can choose to use either independent or group housing for their pregnant sows, however in recent years, there has been a push towards group housing. This is due to the fact that in group housing, sows are able to perform more normal behavior than they are in individual stalls. In Europe, gestation stalls can only be used for up to four weeks after breeding. In group housing, sows are able to move around freely. In this experiment, the gilts, female pigs who had never given birth before, were kept with other gilts until the most recently bred pig had reached 39 days of gestation. Then half of each of the primiparous groups (first-time mothers) was selected and mixed with multiparous sows for a week. After this week, they went back to their home pens. A week later, they were mixed with other multiparous sows for a week, before moving back to their home pens once again. This experiment reflects how often switching can occur in the social group groups of pigs throughout production.

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Topics: The Observer XT, video observation, pigs, aggression, farm animals

What a horse likes to eat: how to test dietary preferences

Posted by Julie Harrison on Aug 25, 2014

When humans are given a choice of food, we usually go for the best-tasting option. Animals also have a preference in which food they eat, although theirs is not based on taste necessarily, but on nutritional value. This choice feeding can be used to learn more about an animal’s nutritional needs and dietary preferences. However, in animals such as horses, there is a long gut transit time, which means that the horse may have difficulty making the connection between which chosen food has which nutritional consequence. So what can be done about this? Redgate and colleagues looked into the addition of a monadic phase (a phase in which only one food was offered at a time instead of all of the options) to choice testing. For this study, researchers wanted to see how a monadic training phase would impact the horse’s choice of food and if voluntary intake and feeding behavior would be influenced if the energy content was constant, but the macronutrient diet was different.

The experiment

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Topics: The Observer XT, horses, feeding behavior,

Through the looking glass: the accuracy of measuring fish aggression by using mirror tests

Posted by Julie Harrison on Aug 18, 2014

When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection of ourselves. As humans, we are aware that this is only a reflection and not actually another living person. However, very few animal species are able to acknowledge that their reflection is not another one of their species which could pose a threat to them. Capuchin monkeys, grey parrots, and elephants are among the few that are able to recognize their mirror image. A majority of animal species, including fish, treat the image in the mirror as a conspecific. As a result, it would make sense that a mirror test could be a good indicator of aggression, especially in fish. However, Valentina Balzarini and colleagues questioned this widespread method, noting recent studies which had shown that hormonal and gene expression responses differed between the fish being exposed to a conspecific or a reflection of itself.

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Topics: The Observer XT, fish

The relationship between food scarcity and caching in fox squirrels

Posted by Julie Harrison on Aug 12, 2014

We’ve all seen squirrels carrying acorns around in their mouths and burying them in the ground. This is a way to hoard food, and most squirrels use a strategy called scatter-hoarding. Instead of storing all of their excess food in one spot for easy access later, squirrels spread their food around in so many different caches that it is hard to believe they could find all of the spots again later. However, a squirrel has a choice to make when it comes across a food item – will it cache it and save it for later or will the squirrel eat it right there? Several factors play into this, such as quality, perishability, and scarcity. Mikel Delgado et al. studied how these different factors had an impact on the food-storing decisions of adult fox squirrels.

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Topics: The Observer XT, foraging behavior

STEM learning between caregiver and child in a museum

Posted by Julie Harrison on Aug 7, 2014

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why? Without realizing it ourselves, our choices in the future can be determined by our pasts and the interests that were fostered when we were children. This can be important especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects and fields because there are not enough people pursuing careers and opportunities in these fields to meet the demands. Catherine Haden and colleagues studied how effective a facilitated educational program in a children’s museum was for promoting conversations between caregiver and child and teaching the child about STEM subjects.

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Topics: The Observer XT, video observation, parent-child interaction

The impact of visitor access in a shelter on the welfare of shelter dogs

Posted by Julie Harrison on Jul 31, 2014

If you’ve ever been to a shelter to adopt a dog, you know that when you walk into the holding area, the dogs can get very noisy. At the introduction of a stranger to the room their kennels are in, the dogs will start barking, which encourages the other dogs around them to bark as well. Barking has been documented as a stressor for dog, as have repetitive behavior and lots of movement. All of these behaviors seem to increase by the access of visitors to the kennel area. Lynn Hewison and colleagues decided to investigate if preventing visitor access to the dogs could lower stress levels and therefore increase general welfare of the animals.

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Topics: The Observer XT, animal-human interaction, dogs, coding schemes, animal welfare, stress research

Interspecific aggression: spotted dolphins vs. bottlenose dolphins

Posted by Julie Harrison on Jun 30, 2014

In the animal kingdom, competition is a part of life. Dominance hierarchies are common both within a group in a species (intergroup) or between two different species (interspecific). These hierarchies often result in aggression as the groups fight for dominance. It would make sense, therefore, that two species who are similar in status in the dominance hierarchy would have an unstable relationship and therefore engage in interspecific aggression continuously over time. One example of two species consistently engaging in interspecific aggression to establish dominance would be the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

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Topics: The Observer XT, behavioral research, dolphin

The welfare of therapy dogs

Posted by Julie Harrison on Jun 25, 2014

As anyone who owns a pet could probably tell you, animals are great comforts to their human partners. The relationship between animal and human can go beyond just pet and owner, however, and become a therapeutic relationship. For example, dogs have been used with adult substance abuse patients in animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) and animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Why use dogs in therapy? They can be a good motivator for participation in an intervention and become a source of trust and comfort to the patient, thus improving the chance of therapy success. There has been a lot of research done on the impact that using dogs in therapy can have on humans. But what about the effect it has on the welfare of the dogs?

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Topics: The Observer XT, animal-human interaction, dogs, animal welfare

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