Monk, J. E., Lee, C., Dickson, E., Campbell, D. L. M. 2020. Attention bias test measures negative but not positive affect in sheep: A replication study. Animals 10(8), 1314.

An attention bias test has been developed as a measure of negative affective states in sheep. The test measures an individual’s allocation of attention between a threatening (previous location of a dog) and positive (conspecific photo) stimulus over a 3 min period. This study replicated a previously inconclusive study, to determine whether the test could assess positive affective states under more controlled conditions and with a younger population of animals. Pharmacological treatments were used to induce anxious, calm, happy, and control affective states prior to entering the attention bias test arena (n = 20/treatment). We hypothesized that sheep in positive and negative affective states could be differentiated using key measures of attention during testing, including vigilance (head at or above shoulder height) and duration looking towards the valenced stimuli. Anxious sheep were more vigilant than control animals during attention bias testing as predicted (linear mixed effects model, p = 0.002), but the positive groups did not differ from controls (p > 0.05). There was no effect of treatment on looking behaviors (p > 0.05). We suggest this attention bias test paradigm can assess negative but not positive affect in sheep and that modifications to the ethogram or stimuli are needed to more clearly characterize the direction of attention during testing.

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