Scientists Develop New Horse Cognition Test

Scientists developed a portable testing system which uses infrared technology that can allow them to evaluate horses in their home stables without human intervention.
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The completely portable and automated system means researchers can conduct studies in the horses’ home stables, removing the influence of external environment as far as possible, they said. | Photo: iStock
Automated research systems for studying equine cognition just got smarter. After the Japanese touch screens with automatic food reward distributors, British scientists have developed a portable testing system with infrared technology. The benefits, they say, include testing in a horse’s home stable, without human intervention and without saliva interference.

“Using noninvasive ways of investigating neural and cognitive function in the horse can be really useful for us to understand what is going on in the brain and react accordingly,” said Kirsty Roberts, PhD candidate, of the Royal Agricultural University, in Gloucestershire, U.K. She performed her study under the supervision of Andrew Hemmings, PhD, of the Royal Agricultural University, Matthew Parker, PhD, of the University of Portsmouth, and Sebastian McBride, PhD, of Aberystwyth University.

“However, we also need this to be scientifically valid and stand up to the other research ongoing in other species,” she said. “Using basic flashcards and having the researcher provide the reward could impact the results. Removing the influence of the researcher over results is necessary. The case of Clever Hans is a key example of this!”

The German stallion Clever Hans made international headlines in the early 1900s by hoof-tapping responses to mathematical equations with amazing accuracy. Scientists finally showed that Hans was influenced by inadvertent cues from his human testers

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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