Systematic assessment of food item preference and reinforcer effectiveness: Enhancements in training laboratory-housed rhesus macaques
The use of systematic preference assessments can enhance positive reinforcement training with captive animals. We found that the multiple stimulus without replacement (MSWO) technique identified food preferences in laboratory housed rhesus macaques, with raisins and grapes being ranked higher on average than dried apricot, pasta, and green beans (Friedman Test, χ2 (4) = 35.52, p < .001). Agreement between individuals (N = 21) was moderate (Kendall’s W = 0.42), and consistency across time varied among individuals (W = .03–.90). Highly preferred items identified by the MSWO assessment were subsequently found to increase subjects’ engagement in a husbandry task on which they were being trained (Mann-Whitney U = 6.00, p = .002) and to improve performance on a progressive ratio schedule (Wilcoxon signed-rank test, Z = −2.17, p = .03) when compared with low preference items. The progressive ratio technique supplements other preference assessment techniques by measuring the amount of work a subject will do to gain access to an item. The use of more effective reinforcers identified through systematic assessment has the potential to increase animal performance on husbandry and research tasks and to improve animal welfare in the laboratory setting.
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