The old adage “never work with children or animals” summarizes the unexpected and sometimes uncooperative nature of these two lineages of test subjects. Although they are both highly intelligent, they have their own opinions and so you can imagine why problems can arise when trying to persuade them to adhere to study protocols. This difficulty on the part of scientific researchers was beautifully demonstrated in a recent study published in the Frontiers Journal of Behavioral Neuroscience. Working with pigs, the researchers wanted to see if the animals could learn to predict any harmful air jitters in their eyes and if they could see a light associated with the puff of the eye, they would naturally turn it off.
The study model is similar to Pavlov’s dog, which will start salivating when he realizes a stimulus involved in feeding. This kind of response is known as associative learning and it is a behavior controlled by the cerebellum. Although a gust of wind may seem unpleasant to the eye, it is completely harmless and a regular test is used during eye examinations on humans. If you have ever been to an ophthalmologist, you are more likely to complete the test yourself.
In the context of collaborative learning, it is known as the iBlink test and has never been used in animals before pigs since 1922. Pigs are famous intelligent animals, so it would be reasonable to expect them to pass the eye blink test. The reason researchers are so concerned with the results is that they want to see if they can increase this area of the brain to improve pig learning. Co-author Ryan Dilger, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois, said in a statement, “The idea is that if we can improve the structural development of the brain through nutritional interventions, pigs should be tested less to learn the rule.”
“We are now in the process of determining the nutritional component, but we had to take the test to work first.” You might think that studying from here would be easy enough, but working with intelligent animals at the will of their own things can hardly go smoothly. The researchers did not want to fix the pigs’ heads for the study, so they decided on a comfortable hammock design to keep them stable without creating a crisis. Unfortunately, the hambocks proved to be somewhat comfortable.
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