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Both sheep and goats can solve inferential by exclusion tasks


Despite the domestication of sheep and goats by humans for several millennia, we still lack comparative data on their cognitive capacity. Comparing the cognitive skills of farm animals can help understand the evolution of cognition. In this study, we compared the performances of sheep and goats in inference by exclusion tasks. We implemented two tasks, namely a cup task and a tube task, to identify whether success in solving the task could be attributed to either low-level mechanisms (avoiding the empty location strategy) or to deductive reasoning (if two possibilities A and B, but not A, then it must be B). In contrast to a previous study comparing goats and sheep in a cup task, we showed that both species solved the inferential condition with high success rates. In the tube task, performances could not be explained by alternative strategies such as avoiding the empty tube or preferring the bent tube. When applying a strict set of criteria concerning responses in all conditions and controlling for the potential effects of experience, we demonstrate that two individuals, a goat and a sheep, fulfil these criteria. This suggests that sheep and goats are able to make inferences based on deductive reasoning.

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The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on request.


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We thank the director and the keepers of the animal sanctuary of the Friedel farm, and the town council of the city of Illkirsch-Graffenstaden for allowing this study.


The authors did not receive financial support from any organisation for the submitted work.

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Correspondence to Valérie Dufour.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

Ethical approval

All the procedures were behavioural and non-invasive, and subjects could choose to stop participating at any time. For this reason, it was granted exemption by the appropriate local research ethics committee (Cremeas, Comité Régional d’Ethique en Matière d’Expérimentation Animale de Strasbourg, n ° CE19-2021-2502-1). Animal research complied with the guidelines set out by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) for all subjects. Our study is in full accordance with the ethical guidelines of our institution and complies with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Duffrene, J., Petit, O., Thierry, B. et al. Both sheep and goats can solve inferential by exclusion tasks. Anim Cogn (2022).

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  • Domestic animal cognition
  • Cup task
  • Tube task
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Inference