Separating Boredom From Apathy and Anhedonia
The authors first clearly defined the various conditions which might result in the behaviors seen. Apathy was defined as a state of reduced motivation or participation in any type of activity, while anhedonia was more specifically tied to reduced motivation for reward-type stimulation.
Bored animals, on the other hand, were expected to seek out novel stimulation. Using these definitions the authors were able to show that boredom was a problem for captive animals in a non-enriched environment.
Study Shows That Enrichment Helps Alleviate Boredom
The study compared the response of mink in enriched environments, which contained a water source, various levels for climbing and objects for manipulation (e.g. toys), and non-enriched environments, which consisted of a bare cage with a nest box. In the non-enriched environments, the mink responded more quickly to any new stimulus, whether positive or negative. In addition, the non-enriched mink had higher levels of boredom, as evidenced by their greater interest in all types of stimuli.
Potential for Improving Care of Captive Wildlife and Pets
Having established that boredom was the problem for the study animals, the next step will be to determine whether this is true for most animal species. Of particular interest to Dr. Meagher and colleagues is the potential for proving or disproving some long held hypotheses regarding boredom in other species. For example, researchers theorize that highly intelligent species such as cetaceans, primates and elephants are at higher risk for boredom and opportunist species such as raccoons, bears and wolves are also prone to boredom in captivity.
Dr. Meagher and colleagues speculate that destructive behavior in pets and stereotypic behavior, such as pacing, in captive wildlife may be forms of ‘creative self-enrichment’. Certainly where captive wildlife receive regular, novel enrichment a reduction in stereotypic behavior is often seen.
Avoid Pet Boredom With Enriched Environments
Pet owners can also improve the welfare of their animals by providing novel enrichment. The non-enriched and enriched cage comparison gives pocket pet owners more incentive to create interesting environments.
And for anyone dealing with a ‘destructive’ dog, finding other forms of enrichment, which save the furniture and other household items, is well worth the effort.
Meagher RK and Mason GJ. Environmental Enrichment Reduces Signs of Boredom in Caged Mink. (2012). PLoS ONE 7(11): e49180. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049180. Accessed November 14, 2012.
Associated Press. You really could be bored to death. (2010). Accessed November 14, 2012.