Effect of reward downshift on the behaviour and physiology of chickens

Anna C Davies, Christine J Nicol, Andrew N Radford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


When a reward is downgraded in quantity or quality from that which is expected, one of two possible outcomes can result. Acquisition responses may decline gradually, owing to a strong stimuluseresponse reinforcement history, and thus follow the Thorndikian law of effect. Alternatively, there may be an
exaggerated reaction to a downgraded reward when it is initially altered, compared to the behaviour of individuals that have always been trained to receive the lower magnitude reward; this is known as successive negative contrast (SNC). While behavioural SNC effects have been commonly demonstrated in mammals, evidence that they occur in other taxa is more equivocal. Additionally, studies demonstrating immediate physiological reactions during reward downshifts are limited. We investigated the reaction of
chickens, Gallus gallus domesticus, to a downshift in the quality of a food reward that they had been trained to expect in a runway apparatus. During a preshift phase, 16 chickens (control) were given food that was flavoured to make it less preferred, while the other 16 (contrast) were fed the same food but
without flavouring. During trial 7, unflavoured food was substituted by flavoured food for contrast hens and all birds were fed the flavoured food during a postshift phase. In the contrast group, food consumption immediately decreased and heart rate increased when the reward was downshifted from
unflavoured to flavoured food, but there was no evidence of SNC effects, which could stem from methodological or taxonomic differences from previous studies. The latency to reach the food appeared to follow the Thorndikian law of effect, gradually increasing following the downshift. We suggest that the
disparity between the pattern shown by the latency results and other measures could relate to the time period in which measures were taken, as acquisition responses are more likely to follow the law of effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-28
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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