Equine Behavior: Attentive Horses Able To Discern False Information  - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Equine Behavior: Attentive Horses Able To Discern False Information 

French and Japanese behaviorists have found that horses can tell if a person has been paying attention, and that they can also determine whether to trust the information the person provides. 

A study has shown scientists that a horse is more likely to follow commands for a food reward from a person who watched where the food went. 

Dr. Monamie Ringhofer, senior lecturer of the Department of Animal Sciences at Teikyo University of Science, says that this behavior indicates a “sophisticated skill” that until now had only been observed in humans and dogs, reports The Horse.

She concludes that the horses see the pointing gesture as a communicative cue that transfers information – it is not a command. 

Previous research had shown that horses tended to go to a bucket at which a human is pointing, but scientists had not considered whether the horse was blindly following the cues or if the horse considered what knowledge a person may have of what is in the bucket.

Ringhofer and a research team recreated a test that was originally designed for dogs: horses watched as someone pretended to place food in one of two containers that were blocked from the horse's view. Both containers actually contained food so that smell wouldn't influence the horse's container choice. Two people stood nearby: one who watched the food be hidden and another who faced away from the feed containers.  

The person handling the food then walked away and the two people pointed to a different bucket. The barrier in front of the buckets was removed and the horse was allowed to choose between the buckets. The horses seemed to “trust” the information from the person who had seen the carrot being placed. 

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However, these results were dependent on whether the horse was paying attention. The team noted that horses which didn't make the connection between the pointing cue and the person's knowledge didn't mean the horse was less intelligent, it might mean they simply weren't motivated to pay attention. 

The findings suggest that a horse which is paying attention may notice where a human is looking and what they are paying attention to and can, in theory, conclude whether or not the human knows something. 

People interacting with horses should be aware that they are sensitive to human attention and gestures. A horse's motivation and attention should be taken into consideration when they are interacting with humans; it may be necessary to increase a horse's motivation toward what is being taught or trained.

Read more at The Horse

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