How can you tell when an animal is bored? Researchers have found that mink housed in boring conditions consume more food treats between meals, and lie awake for a large portion of the day compared to mink that live in interesting environments. The study, published November 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Rebecca Meagher and colleagues from the University of Guelph, Canada, quantifies, for the first time, signs of boredom in an animal.
Exposing mink to a variety of stimuli including puffs of air, objects to chase, and candles, the researchers found that animals housed in homes enriched with other stimuli such as water to wade in consumed fewer food treats when not hungry, and did not lie awake without sleeping as much as animals housed without these stimuli.
Although providing caged animals with sufficiently stimulating environments is considered critical for their well-being, defining what may be considered adequate stimulation has been a challenge. Inactive or sluggish animals are often called bored or depressed, but these terms are yet to be clearly defined for non-human subjects.
The authors of this study suggest that their results are a first step towards defining boredom in caged mink. According to the study, “Such means of defining boredom for non-human animals are very much needed, since reducing boredom is often stated as an aim of enrichment, and yet to date we have had no means of judging success at achieving this goal.”
Lead author Meagher adds “Many people believe that farm and zoo animals in empty enclosures get bored, but since the animals can’t tell us how they feel, we can only judge this from seeing how motivated they are for stimulation.”
“Environmental Enrichment Reduces Signs of Boredom in Caged Mink., Meagher RK, Mason GJ (2012) PLoS ONE 7(11): e49180. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049180
Financial Disclosure: Rebecca Meagher was supported by an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship at the time the work was conducted, and the research was funded by an NSERC Discovery grant to Georgia Mason (grant no. 048041) and a grant from the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare to both authors. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.