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Horses feel emotions when they watch positive and negative horse–human interactions in a video and transpose what they saw to real life

By Miléna Trösch, Sophie Pellon, Florent Cuzol, Céline Parias, Raymond Nowak, Ludovic Calandreau, Léa Lansade

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AbstractAnimals can indirectly gather meaningful information about other individuals by eavesdropping on their third-party interactions. In particular, eavesdropping can be used to indirectly attribute a negative or positive valence to an individual and to adjust one’s future behavior towards that individual. Few studies have focused on this ability in nonhuman animals, especially in nonprimate species. Here, we investigated this ability for the first time in domestic horses (Equus caballus) by projecting videos of positive and negative interactions between an unknown human experimenter (a 'positive' experimenter or a 'negative' experimenter) and an actor horse. The horses reacted emotionally while watching the videos, expressing behavioral (facial expressions and contact-seeking behavior) and physiological (heart rate) cues of positive emotions while watching the positive video and of negative emotions while watching the negative video. This result shows that the horses perceived the content of the videos and suggests an emotional contagion between the actor horse and the subjects. After the videos were projected, the horses took a choice test, facing the positive and negative experimenters in real life. The horses successfully used the interactions seen in the videos to discriminate between the experimenters. They touched the negative experimenter significantly more, which seems counterintuitive but can be interpreted as an appeasement attempt, based on the existing literature. This result suggests that horses can indirectly attribute a valence to a human experimenter by eavesdropping on a previous third-party interaction with a conspecific. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

Publication Title Animal Cognition
ISBN/ISSN 1435-94481435-9456
Publisher Springer
DOI 10.1007/s10071-020-01369-0
Notes INRAE, PRC, CNRS, IFCE, Université de Tours, Nouzilly, France. Release Date: 20200316. Publication Type: Journal (0100), Peer Reviewed Journal (0110). Format Covered: Electronic. Language: English. Major Descriptor: No terms assigned. Classification: Animal Experimental & Comparative Psychology (2400). Publication History: Accepted Date: Mar 4, 2020; First Submitted Date: Sep 12, 2019. Copyright Statement: Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. 2020.
Author Address Trösch, Miléna
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Emotions
  2. Horses
  3. Human-animal relationships
  4. social cognition