Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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Symposium #147
CE Offered: BACB
Preferences Across Species: Who Knew?
Sunday, May 24, 2015
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
008B (CC)
Area: AAB; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Erica N. Feuerbacher (University of Florida)
CE Instructor: Terri M. Bright, Ph.D.
Abstract: Applied Animal Behavior Analysts avail themselves of the same science as other Behavior Analysts, and knowledge of a non-human animal’s potential and preferred stimuli is essential in changing their behavior. For captive animals, being able to interact with preferred stimuli can also keep them mentally healthy. The research presented here represents multiple species, from tortoises to snakes to domestic cats, and preferences are discovered through experimentation that could then be used as environmental enrichment, and/or as reinforcers. Operant thermoregulation with snakes will be discussed, as will the predictions of zoo staff of possible reinforcers for their charges, and research on cats who live in animal shelter offices will show whether they prefer scent enrichment, a conspecific, or a human lap.
Keyword(s): animal enrichment, animal preference
Operant Conditioning in Snakes: Temperature Change as a Reinforcer
CHRIS VARNON (Oklahoma State University), David Craig (Oklahoma State University), Aaron Place (Northwestern Oklahoma State University), Christopher Dinges (Oklahoma State University)
Abstract: Relatively little research has been conducted on snake learning with research on operant conditioning being particularly limited. This is unfortunate, as our understanding of learning would greatly benefit by studying species like snakes that are different than traditional pigeon and rat subjects from which much of our knowledge of learning was derived. A better understanding of snake learning would also benefit human-snake interactions in captivity and nature. This is particularly important considering the venomous defensive bite of many snake species. Our research leads us to suggest that operant thermoregulation may be a good paradigm for snake research and training. Snakes may not consistently respond for food or water. However, snakes and other ectotherms must constantly maintain body temperature by selecting appropriately cool or warm environments. In our method, a lever press or infrared beam break response of a warm snake is reinforced by a brief reduction of ambient temperature. The presentation will discuss our previous research with the rattlesnakes Crotalus atrox and C. horridus, the effectiveness of and alternatives to the operant thermoregulation procedure, types of responses in snakes, and the applicability of this procedure to other species.
Preference Assessments in the Zoo: Enrichment Efficacy, Keeper Validity, and Species Generality
LINDSAY MEHRKAM (University of Florida), Nicole R. Dorey (University of Florida)
Abstract: Environmental enrichment is widely used as a welfare strategy in captive animal management. However, it is debated as to whether an animal’s preference for an enrichment strategy is any indicator of its efficacy. In addition, few studies have evaluated effective environmental enrichment strategies for non-mammalian species. In Study 1, we compared the results of an observational evaluation of enrichment efficacy with the results of a paired-stimulus preference assessment for three Galapagos tortoises. Preference predicted efficacy for promoting species-typical behavior (1/3 subjects), activity levels (2/3 subjects), and enclosure use (2/3 subjects), but not conspecific interactions (0/3 subjects). The aim of Study 2 was to conduct preference assessments across six different species and to comparing the agreement from these results to zoo personnel predictions of animals’ enrichment preferences. Four out of six species demonstrated systematic preferences for a specific enrichment item. Overall, zoo personnel, regardless of experience level, were significantly more accurate at predicting less preferred enrichment items than highly preferred enrichment items and tended to make the same predictions for all individuals within a species. These results suggest that preference assessments may be a useful, efficient husbandry strategy for identifying viable enrichment items at both the individual and species levels.

When Cats Aren't Lions or Tigers: Enrichment of Cats Quarantined in an Animal Shelter

TERRI M. BRIGHT (Simmons College and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Allison Thibeault (MSPCA/Angell Animal Medical Center)

Homeless cats living in an animal shelter have a predictable schedule of eating and interacting with conspecifics (if such a room and appropriate cats are available), as well as with staff, caretakers, and the public. At the MSPCA in Boston, the average stay for such a cat is 13 days. However, if a cat is brought to the Shelter with a wound of unknown origin, that cat must be quarantined for six months at the Shelter, per state rabies law, and may not be transferred. These cats are known, in Shelter parlance, as office cats, as they spend their quarantine period living in a staff office. One could argue that a process of enrichment, as is used in zoos for big felids, might be appropriate for an office cat. In this study, we looked at whether scent enrichment, such as is done for zoo cats, would elicit the same sort of behavior from office cats, that of sniffing and interacting with scent jars. We then compared this condition with the cats behavior when an office person and/or another cat were also present.




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