Captive animals show signs of boredom, study finds

Nov 14, 2012
Bored mink snack between meals, lie awake in bed
Mink are less active when they lack external stimuli. Credit: Rebecca Meagher

Wondering if your caged hamster gets bored? It's highly likely if the critter has nothing to do all day.

Those are the findings of University of Guelph researchers in the first research study to empirically demonstrate boredom in confined animals. The study appears today in , published by the Public Library of Science.

The study's authors hope the results encourage the development of better for .

"Ideas about how to assess animal boredom scientifically have been raised before, but this is really the first time that anyone's done it," said Rebecca Meagher, a U of G postdoctoral researcher and the study's lead author.

It's well-established that living in unchanging, inescapable environments induces boredom in humans, including prisoners who report that they are highly motivated to seek stimulation.

"But we cannot rely on verbal self-reports from non-humans, so motivation to obtain general stimulation must form the basis of any objective measure of boredom in animals," said Prof. Georgia Mason, who holds the Canada Research Chair in in Guelph's Department of Animal and .

The researchers presented captive mink with ranging from appealing treats to neutral objects to undesirable things, such as leather gloves used to catch the animals.

Half of the animals in the study lived in small, bare cages. The other half lived in large "enriched" cages that were enhanced with water for wading, passageways for running, objects to chew and towers to climb.

The researchers found that animals in confined, empty spaces avidly seek stimulation, which is consistent with boredom. Those mink approached stimuli—even normally frightening objects—three times more quickly and investigated them for longer. These animals also ate more treats, even when given as much food as mink in enriched environments.

When they were not being tested, mink in empty cages spent much of their waking time lying down and idle. Among them, those that spent the most time awake but motionless showed the keenest interest in stimuli.

"We don't know whether or other animals truly feel bored in the same way that humans do," Meagher said. "We can't measure that type of subjective experience. But we can see that, when they have little to do, then just like many bored humans, they may look listless, and, if given the chance, eagerly seek any form of stimulation."

Guelph neuroscientist and psychology professor Mark Fenske, an expert in human cognition and emotion and recent co-author of a comprehensive review of boredom research, said the study is an important addition to the literature.

"Surprisingly little is known about boredom, even though it is associated with significant adverse consequences for health and well-being," he said.

"Being able to now study boredom in non-human animals is an important step in our efforts to understand its causes and effects and find ways to alleviate boredom-related problems across species."

Meagher and Mason hope the findings will prompt further research, including looking at whether intelligent such as primates and parrots are particularly prone to in captivity, and why under-stimulation causes problems.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: Meagher RK, Mason GJ (2012) Environmental Enrichment Reduces Signs of Boredom in Caged Mink. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49180. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049180

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bored? This is anything but tedious

May 25, 2011

Boredom: Children are quick to distastefully proclaim it and adults are quick to deny it. But University of Calgary Greek and Roman Studies professor Peter Toohey says there is nothing wrong with boredom after all. In fact, ...

Bored to death? It's possible

Feb 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists from the University College London in the U.K. have found that living a life of boredom can kill you.

Overcoming boredom

Sep 01, 2011

“I’m bored.” It’s a line that parents likely hear throughout the year. But, as students prepare to head back to classes for the start of a new school year, one University of Alberta researcher says these ...

Hebridean farmers: Fewer mink, more rats

Mar 02, 2008

An effort to rid the Outer Hebrides of Scotland of mink to protect nesting seabirds has caused rats to become more plentiful, farmers on the islands say.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

22 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...