Bethell, E. J., Koyama, N. F. 2015. Happy hamsters? Enrichment induces positive judgement bias for mildly (but not truly) ambiguous cues to reward and punishment in Mesocricetus auratus. Royal Society Open Science 2, 140399.
Recent developments in the study of animal cognition and emotion have resulted in the ‘judgement bias’ model of animal welfare. Judgement biases describe the way in which changes in affective state are characterized by changes in information processing. In humans, anxiety and depression are characterized by increased expectation of negative events and negative interpretation of ambiguous information. Positive wellbeing is associated with enhanced expectation of positive outcomes and more positive interpretation of ambiguous information. Mood-congruent judgement biases for ambiguous information have been demonstrated in a range of animal species, with large variation in the way tests are administered and in the robustness of analyses. We highlight and address some issues using a laboratory species not previously tested: the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus). Hamsters were tested using a spatial judgement go/no-go task in enriched and unenriched housing. We included a number of controls and additional behavioural tests and applied a robust analytical approach using linear mixed effects models. Hamsters approached the ambiguous cues significantly more often when enriched than unenriched. There was no effect of enrichment on responses to the middle cue. We discuss these findings in light of mechanisms underlying processing cues to reward, punishment and true ambiguity, and the implications for the welfare of laboratory hamsters.