Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 667–672

‘Goats that stare at men’—revisited: do dwarf goats alter their behaviour in response to eye visibility and head direction of a human?

  • Christian Nawroth
  • Eberhard von Borell
  • Jan Langbein
Short Communication

DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-0957-6

Cite this article as:
Nawroth, C., von Borell, E. & Langbein, J. Anim Cogn (2016) 19: 667. doi:10.1007/s10071-016-0957-6


Being able to recognise when one is being observed by someone else is thought to be adaptive during cooperative or competitive events. In particular for prey species, this ability should be of use in the context of predation. A previous study reported that goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) alter their behaviour according to the body and head orientation of a human experimenter. During a food anticipation task, an experimenter remained in a particular posture for 30 s before delivering a reward, and the goats’ active anticipation and standing alert behaviour were analysed. To further evaluate the specific mechanisms at work, we here present two additional test conditions. In particular, we investigated the effects of the eye visibility and head orientation of a human experimenter on the behaviour of the goats (N = 7). We found that the level of the subjects’ active anticipatory behaviour was highest in the conditions where the experimenter was directing his head and body towards the goat (‘Control’ and ‘Eyes closed’ conditions), but the anticipatory behaviour was significantly decreased when the body (‘Head only’) or the head and body of the experimenter were directed away from the subject (‘Back’ condition). For standing alert, we found no significant differences between the three conditions in which the experimenter was directing his head towards the subject (‘Control’, ‘Eyes closed’ and ‘Head only’). This lack of differences in the expression of standing alert suggests that goats evaluate the direction of a human’s head as an important cue in their anticipatory behaviour. However, goats did not respond to the visibility of the experimenter’s eyes alone.


Dwarf goats Eye visibility Food anticipation paradigm Head orientation Social cognition 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
  • NA 1233/1-1

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Nawroth
    • 1
  • Eberhard von Borell
    • 2
  • Jan Langbein
    • 3
  1. 1.Biological and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen MaryUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Animal Husbandry and Ecology, Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional SciencesMartin-Luther-UniversityHalleGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Behavioural Physiology, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal BiologyDummerstorfGermany

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