The responses of young domestic horses (Equus caballus) to human-given cues

Proops, Leanne, Rayner, Jenny, Taylor, Anna M and McComb, Karen (2013) The responses of young domestic horses (Equus caballus) to human-given cues. PLoS ONE, 8 (6). e67000. ISSN 1932-6203

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It has been suggested that the process of domestication, at least in some species, has led to an innate predisposition to be skilled at reading human communicative and attentional cues. Adult domestic horses (Equus caballus) are highly sensitive to subtle bodily cues when determining if a person is attending to them but they are less adept at using human communicative cues in object choice tasks. Here we provide the first study into the ontogeny of such skills in order to gain insights into the mechanisms underlying these abilities. Compared with adult horses, youngsters under the age of three
could use body orientation but not more subtle cues such as head movement and open/closed eyes to correctly choose an attentive person to approach for food. Across two object choice experiments, the performance of young horses was comparable to that of adult horses – subjects were able to correctly choose a rewarded bucket using marker placement, pointing and touching cues but could not use body orientation, gaze, elbow pointing or tapping cues. Taken together these results do not support the theory that horses possess an innate predisposition to be particularly skilled at using human
cues. Horses’ ability to determine whether humans are attending to them using subtle body cues appears to require significant experience to fully develop and their perhaps less remarkable use of limited cues in object choice tasks, although present at a much earlier age, is likely to reflect a more general learning ability related to stimulus enhancement rather than
a specific ‘human-reading’ skill.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0750 Animal behaviour
Q Science > QZ Psychology
Depositing User: Leanne Proops
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2014 13:47
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2018 22:17

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