Unwilling or willing but unable: can horses interpret human actions as goal directed?

Abstract

Social animals can gain important benefits by inferring the goals behind the behavior of others. However, this ability has only been investigated in a handful of species outside of primates. In this study, we tested for the first time whether domestic horses can interpret human actions as goal directed. We used the classical “unwilling versus unable” paradigm: an experimenter performed three similar actions that have the same outcome, but the goal of the experimenter differed. In the unwilling condition, the experimenter had no intention to give a piece of food to a horse and moved it out of reach when the horse tried to eat it. In the two unable conditions, the experimenter had the intention to give the food to the horse but was unable to do so, either because there was a physical barrier between them or because of the experimenter’s clumsiness. The horses (n = 21) reacted differently in the three conditions: they showed more interest in the unable conditions, especially in the unable clumsy condition, than in the unwilling condition. These results are similar to results found in primates with the same paradigm and suggest that horses might have taken the experimenter’s goal, or even intentions, into account to adapt their behavior. Hence, our study offers more insights into horse interspecific social cognition towards humans.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Bernauer K, Kollross H, Schuetz A et al (2019) How do horses (Equus caballus) learn from observing human action? Anim Cogn 23:1–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01310-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Buttelmann D, Carpenter M, Call J, Tomasello M (2007) Enculturated chimpanzees imitate rationally. Dev Sci 10:31–38. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2007.00630.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Buttelmann D, Schütte S, Carpenter M et al (2012) Great apes infer others’ goals based on context. Anim Cogn 15:1037–1053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0528-4

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Call J, Tomasello M (2008) Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends Cogn Sci 12:187–192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2008.02.010

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Call J, Hare B, Carpenter M, Tomasello M (2004) ’Unwilling’ versus ’unable’: chimpanzees’ understanding of human intentional action. Dev Sci 7:488–498. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2004.00368.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Canteloup C, Meunier H (2017) ‘Unwilling’ versus ‘unable’: Tonkean macaques’ understanding of human goal-directed actions. PeerJ 5:e3227. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3227

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Friard O, Gamba M (2016) BORIS: a free, versatile open-source event-logging software for video/audio coding and live observations. Methods Ecol Evol 7:1325–1330. https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12584

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Gabor V, Gerken M (2012) Cognitive testing in horses using a computer based apparatus. Appl Anim Behav Sci 139:242–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2012.04.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gabor V, Gerken M (2014) Shetland ponies (Equus caballus) show quantity discrimination in a matching-to-sample design. Anim Cogn 17:1233–1243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0753-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Hauser M, Wood J (2010) Evolving the capacity to understand actions, intentions, and goals. Annu Rev Psychol 61:303–324. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100434

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Hothorn T, Bretz F, Westfall P et al (2019) Multcomp: simultaneous inference in general parametric models. https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/multcomp/index.html. Accessed 23 May 2020

  12. Krueger K, Flauger B, Farmer K, Maros K (2011) Horses (Equus caballus) use human local enhancement cues and adjust to human attention. Anim Cogn 14:187–201. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-010-0352-7

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Kuznetsova A, Brockhoff PB, Christensen RHB (2015) lmerTest: tests for random and fixed effects for linear mixed effect models. https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/lmerTest/index.html. Accessed 23 May 2020

  14. Lansade L, Colson V, Parias C et al (2020) Female horses spontaneously identify a photograph of their keeper, last seen six months previously. Sci Rep 10:6302. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62940-w

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Malavasi R, Huber L (2016) Evidence of heterospecific referential communication from domestic horses (Equus caballus) to humans. Anim Cogn 19:899–909. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-0987-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Murphy J, Hall C, Arkins S (2009) What horses and humans see: a comparative review. Int J Zool. https://doi.org/10.1155/2009/721798

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Péron F, Rat-fischer L, Nagle L, Bovet D (2010) ‘Unwilling’ versus ‘unable’: do grey parrots understand human intentional actions? Interact Stud 11:428–441. https://doi.org/10.1075/is.11.3.06per

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Phillips W, Barnes JL, Mahajan N et al (2009) “Unwilling” versus “unable”: capuchin monkeys’ (Cebus apella) understanding of human intentional action. Dev Sci 12:938–945. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00840.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Proops L, McComb K (2010) Attributing attention: the use of human-given cues by domestic horses (Equus caballus). Anim Cogn 13:197–205. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-009-0257-5

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Range F, Viranyi Z, Huber L (2007) Selective imitation in domestic dogs. Curr Biol 17:868–872. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2007.04.026

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. R Core Team (2013) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. https://www.R-project.org/. Accessed 23 May 2020

  22. Ringhofer M, Yamamoto S (2016) Domestic horses send signals to humans when they face with an unsolvable task. Anim Cogn 20:397–405. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-017-1074-x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Ringhofer M, Inoue S, Mendonça RS et al (2017) Comparison of the social systems of primates and feral horses: data from a newly established horse research site on Serra D’Arga, northern Portugal. Primates 58:479–484. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-017-0614-y

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Searle JR (1983) Intentionality: an essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  25. Taylor AH, Hunt GR, Medina FS, Gray RD (2009) Do new caledonian crows solve physical problems through causal reasoning? Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 276:247–254. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2008.1107

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Teschke I, Tebbich S (2011) Physical cognition and tool-use: performance of Darwin’s finches in the two-trap tube task. Anim Cogn 14:555–563. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0390-9

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Tomonaga M, Kumazaki K, Camus F et al (2015) A horse’s eye view: size and shape discrimination compared with other mammals. Biol Lett 11:20150701. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0701

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. Trösch M, Cuzol F, Parias C et al (2019a) Horses categorize human emotions cross-modally based on facial expression and non-verbal vocalizations. Animals 9:862–872. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110862

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Trösch M, Ringhofer M, Yamamoto S et al (2019b) Horses prefer to solicit a person who previously observed a food-hiding process to access this food: a possible indication of attentional state attribution. Behav Process 166:103906. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2019.103906

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Trösch M, Pellon S, Cuzol F et al (2020) Horses feel emotions when they watch positive and negative horse–human interactions in a video and transpose what they saw to real life. Anim Cogn. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01369-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Visalberghi E, Limongelli L (1994) Lack of comprehension of cause-effect relations in tool-using capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). J Comp Psychol 108:15–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7036.108.1.15

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. Wood JN, Glynn DD, Phillips BC, Hauser MD (2007) The perception of rational, goal-directed action in non-human primates. Science 317:1402–1405

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Wood JN, Glynn DD, Hauser MD (2008) Rhesus monkeys’ understanding of actions and goals. Soc Neurosci 3:60–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470910701563442

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Woodward AL (2009) Infants’ grasp of others’ intentions. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 18:53–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01605.x

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Carlos Da Silva and Dominique Rodrigues for allowing us to use the horses and facilities in their stable and all the owners of the horses. We also thank Solenn Demulder, Caroline Paillard and Florent Cuzol for their help during video analysis. Our research was financially supported by the IFCE (Institut Français du Cheval et de l’Equitation; grant: Cognition-équitation).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Miléna Trösch.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 3354 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Trösch, M., Bertin, E., Calandreau, L. et al. Unwilling or willing but unable: can horses interpret human actions as goal directed?. Anim Cogn 23, 1035–1040 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01396-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Equus caballus
  • Social cognition
  • Intentions
  • Horse–human relationship