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


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.

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The authors declare no competing interests. This study was supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (NA 1233/1-1) to Christian Nawroth. We would like to thank Katrin Siebert for data coding, Gerd Nürnberg for statistical advice and Dieter Sehland and Heinz Deike for excellent technical assistance. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jan Langbein.

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Nawroth, C., von Borell, E. & Langbein, J. ‘Goats that stare at men’—revisited: do dwarf goats alter their behaviour in response to eye visibility and head direction of a human?. Anim Cogn 19, 667–672 (2016).

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  • Dwarf goats
  • Eye visibility
  • Food anticipation paradigm
  • Head orientation
  • Social cognition