Valence and Intensity of Video Stimuli of Dogs and Conspecifics in Sheep: Approach-Avoidance, Operant Response, and Attention.Animals (Basel). 2018 Jul 17; 8(7)A
Stimuli are often presumed to be either negative or positive. However, animals' judgement of their negativity or positivity cannot generally be assumed. A possibility to assess emotional states in animals elicited by stimuli is to investigate animal preferences and their motivation to gain access to these stimuli. This study's aim was to assess the valence of social stimuli in sheep. We used silent videos of varying intensity of dogs as negative versus conspecifics as positive stimuli in three approaches: (1) an approach⁻avoidance paradigm; (2) operant conditioning using the video stimuli as reinforcers; and (3) an attention test. In the latter, we assessed differential attention of sheep to simultaneous projections by automatically tracking sheep head and ear postures and recording brain activity. With these approaches, it was difficult to support that the sheep's reactions varied according to the stimuli's presumed valence and intensity. The approach⁻avoidance paradigm and attention test did not support the assumption that dog videos were more negative than sheep videos, though sheep reacted to the stimuli presented. Results from the operant conditioning indicated that sheep were more prone to avoid videos of moving dogs. Overall, we found that standard video images may not be ideal to represent valence characteristics of stimuli to sheep.