Early-life adversity is associated with increased vulnerability to depression in humans, and depression-like phenotypes in animals. However, different types of adverse experience may leave different signatures in adulthood. We experimentally manipulated the Amount of food delivered to European starling nestlings and the begging Effort required to obtain food during early development. Here, we report behavioural data in adulthood from a task that assessed sensitivity to shifts in reward magnitude characteristic of depression-like low mood. Birds that had experienced Hard Effort were more food motivated than birds that had experienced Easy Effort. Both Effort and Amount affected sensitivity to shifts in reward magnitude: Hard Effort birds showed an enhanced negative contrast effect following loss of reward (‘disappointment’), and Lean Amount birds failed to show a normal positive contrast effect following gain in reward (a lack of ‘elation’). Therefore, the feeding schedule experienced for just 10 days in early life caused enduring effects on feeding motivation and sensitivity to reward loss/gain consistent with human depression. Furthermore, the contrast effects were specific to different types of adversity. These results highlight the importance of early-life feeding schedules in the development of depression-like phenotypes.
- Animal behaviour