Anim Cogn. 2013 Oct 30.
The effects of age, rank and neophobia on social learning in horses.
Krueger K1, Farmer K, Heinze J.
Author Information: 1Biology 1, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstraße 31, 93053, Regensburg, Germany, Konstanze.krueger@hfwu.de.

Abstract

Social learning is said to meet the demands of complex environments in which individuals compete over resources and cooperate to share resources. Horses (Equus caballus) were thought to lack social learning skills because they feed on homogenously distributed resources with few reasons for conflict. However, the horse's social environment is complex, which raises the possibility that its capacity for social transfer of feeding behaviour has been underestimated. We conducted a social learning experiment using 30 socially kept horses of different ages. Five horses, one from each group, were chosen as demonstrators, and the remaining 25 horses were designated observers. Observers from each group were allowed to watch their group demonstrator opening a feeding apparatus. We found that young, low-ranking and more exploratory horses learned by observing older members of their own group, and the older the horse, the more slowly it appeared to learn. Social learning may be an adaptive specialisation to the social environment. Older animals may avoid the potential costs of acquiring complex and potentially disadvantageous feeding behaviours from younger group members. We argue that horses show social learning in the context of their social ecology and that research procedures must take such contexts into account. Misconceptions about the horse's sociality may have hampered earlier studies.

PMID: 24170136 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

First posted: Apr 11, 2014
Last update: Apr 11, 2014