Responses of calves to acute stress: Individual consistency and relations between behavioral and physiological measures

C.G. Van Reenen, Niamh O'Connell, J.T.N. Van Der Werf, S.M. Korte, H. Hopster, R.B. Jones, H.J. Blokhuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Citations (Scopus)


The present study examined the consistency over time of individual differences in behavioral and physiological responsiveness of calves to intuitively alarming test situations as well as the relationships between behavioral and physiological measures. Twenty Holstein Friesian heifer calves were individually subjected to the same series of two behavioral and two hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis reactivity tests at 3, 13 and 26 weeks of age. Novel environment (open field, OF) and novel object (NO) tests involved measurement of behavioral, plasma cortisol and heart rate responses. Plasma ACTH and/or cortisol response profiles were determined after administration of exogenous CRH and ACTH, respectively, in the HPA axis reactivity tests. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to condense correlated measures within ages into principal components reflecting independent dimensions underlying the calves' reactivity. Cortisol responses to the OF and NO tests were positively associated with the latency to contact and negatively related to the time spent in contact with the NO. Individual differences in scores of a principal component summarizing this pattern of inter-correlations, as well as differences in separate measures of adrenocortical and behavioral reactivity in the OF and NO tests proved highly consistent over time. The cardiac response to confinement in a start box prior to the OF test was positively associated with the cortisol responses to the OF and NO tests at 26 weeks of age. HPA axis reactivity to ACTH or CRH was unrelated to adrenocortical and behavioral responses to novelty. These findings strongly suggest that the responsiveness of calves was mediated by stable individual characteristics. Correlated adrenocortical and behavioral responses to novelty may reflect underlying fearfulness, defining the individual's susceptibility to the elicitation of fear. Other independent characteristics mediating reactivity may include activity or coping style (related to locomotion) and underlying sociality (associated with vocalization). (c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-570
Number of pages14
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 07 Aug 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Physiology (medical)


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