Are Horses Optimistic or Pessimistic? A New Test Could Tell

This new cognitive bias test—a way to test an individual’s level of optimism—could help researchers better evaluate equine welfare, researchers said.
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are horses optimistic or pessimistic
This new cognitive bias test—a way to test an individual’s level of optimism—could help researchers better evaluate equine welfare, researchers said. | Photo: iStock

There’s a new opportunity in front of you with promise of great reward. The opportunity might prove successful, but it also might not. Do you wonder if it’s worth even trying?

This is the decision horses were presented with in a new test to measure optimism and pessimism in animals. In the study, horses faced the question of whether to try to obtain a food reward that they might or might not receive, or give up and ask for a new trial. It was part of a new cognitive bias test—a way to test an individual’s level of optimism. And testing animals’ cognitive bias is a critical part of evaluating welfare, the research team said.

“Since we lack language as a means to communicate with animals, we need indirect measures to infer how an animal feels, such as behavioral, physiological, and cognitive indicators of emotional states,” said Sara Hintze, PhD, of University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, in Austria

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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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