Comprehension of human pointing gestures in horses (Equus caballus)
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Twenty domestic horses (Equus caballus) were tested for their ability to rely on different human gesticular cues in a two-way object choice task. An experimenter hid food under one of two bowls and after baiting, indicated the location of the food to the subjects by using one of four different cues. Horses could locate the hidden reward on the basis of the distal dynamic-sustained, proximal momentary and proximal dynamic-sustained pointing gestures but failed to perform above chance level when the experimenter performed a distal momentary pointing gesture. The results revealed that horses could rely spontaneously on those cues that could have a stimulus or local enhancement effect, but the possible comprehension of the distal momentary pointing remained unclear. The results are discussed with reference to the involvement of various factors such as predisposition to read human visual cues, the effect of domestication and extensive social experience and the nature of the gesture used by the experimenter in comparative investigations.
KeywordsHuman–animal communication Pointing Horse
We thank Rita Lénárd and Krisztina Kurucz, the caretakers (and partly the owners) of the ponies of the Budapest Zoo. We also thank Péter Tóth, Rita Nánási and Gyula Mészáros for their help and support in working with the other horses and the horse owners for their cooperation. In addition, we thank Celeste Pongracz for reviewing the English and the four anonym reviewers for their revision of the manuscript. We confirm that our research was done in adherence to the Guidelines for the use of animals in research and the national laws of Hungary about the animal welfare and abusement.
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