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Research article2015Peer reviewed

Horses fail to use social learning when solving spatial detour tasks

Rorvang, Maria Vilain; Ahrendt, Line Peerstrup; Christensen, Janne Winther


Social animals should have plenty of opportunities to learn from conspecifics, but most studies have failed to document social learning in horses. This study investigates whether young Icelandic horses can learn a spatial detour task through observation of a trained demonstrator horse of either the same age (Experiments 1 and 2, n = 22) or older (Experiment 3, n = 24). Observer horses were allowed to observe the demonstrator being led three times through the detour route immediately before being given the opportunity to solve the task themselves. Controls were allowed only to observe the demonstrator horse eating at the final position, but not the demonstration of the route. Although we found a tendency towards better performance by observer horses in the second experiment, we were unable to repeat this result in a similar set-up with a new group of horses and older, dominant demonstrator horses. We conclude that horses exposed to prior demonstration did not perform better than control horses in solving spatial detour tasks.


Horse; Social learning; Spatial detour task; Motivation; Dominance; Social relationships

Published in

Animal Cognition
2015, Volume: 18, number: 4, pages: 847-854
Publisher: Springer

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Behavioral Sciences Biology

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