Administration of serotonin inhibitor p-Chlorophenylalanine induces pessimistic-like judgement bias in sheep

Rebecca Doyle, Geoff Hinch, Andrew D. Fisher, Alain Boissy, John M. Henshall, Caroline Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Judgement bias has potential as a measure of affective state in animals. The serotonergic system may be one mechanism involved with the formation of negative judgement biases. It was hypothesised that depletion of brain serotonin would induce negative judgement biases in sheep. A dose response trial established that 40 mg/kg of p-Chlorophenylalanine (pCPA) administered to sheep for 3 days did not affect feeding motivation or locomotion required for testing judgement biases. Thirty Merino ewes (10 months old) were trained to an operant task for 3 weeks. Sheep learnt to approach a bucket when it was placed in one corner of the testing facility to receive a feed reward (go response), and not approach it when in the alternate corner (no-go response) to avoid a negative reinforcer (exposure to a dog). Following training, 15 sheep were treated with pCPA (40 mg/kg daily) for an extended duration (5 days). Treated and control sheep were tested for judgement bias following 3 and 5 days of treatment, and again 5 days after cessation of treatment. Testing involved the bucket being presented in ambiguous locations between the two learnt locations, and the response of the sheep (go/no-go) measured their judgement of the bucket locations. Following 5 days of treatment, pCPA-treated sheep approached the most positive ambiguous location significantly less than control sheep, suggesting a pessimistic-like bias (treatment × bucket location interaction F1,124.6 = 49.97, p = 0.011). A trend towards a significant interaction was still evident 5 days after the cessation of pCPA treatment (p = 0.068), however no significant interaction was seen on day 3 of testing (p = 0.867). These results support the suggestion that judgement bias is a cognitive measure of affective state, and that the serotonergic pathway may be involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-288
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date2010
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


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