Vonk, J., McGuire, M. C., Johnson-Ulrich, Z. 2021. Bearing fruit: Piloting a novel judgment bias task in an American black bear. Zoo Biology 40(2), 89-97.
Judgment bias tasks can reveal changes in affect in animals as a function of environmental manipulations such as provision of enrichment. We assessed affect in an American black bear across seasonal changes in availability of a mulberry bush. We used a novel judgment bias task in which the background color of a touchscreen signaled whether the left or right positioned stimulus was correct. The bear learned the conditional rule in which the correct action for the white background (choose left) resulted in three pieces of food and the correct action for the black background (choose right) resulted in one piece of food. On probe trials involving intermediate gray backgrounds, left side responses indicated optimism and right side responses indicated pessimism. Tests took place at the beginning, middle, and end of mulberry season and again nearing the end of the summer and early fall before hibernation. The bear showed the most optimistic responses during the phase involving increased opportunities for foraging on mulberry. A follow-up experiment confirmed that the bear preferred three food items over one food item, suggesting the quantity-based discrimination was in fact salient to this bear. This is the first evidence for conditional discrimination learning in a black bear, validating the task to assess changes in affect.