When life’s got you down, do you tend to be pessimistic? According to a new study, horses sure seem to be. French researchers have learned that suboptimal living conditions, such as 24-hour individual stabling and restricted feeding, can make horses less optimistic.
“The use of cognitive bias testing—checking a horse’s level of optimism—is a useful way to ‘ask’ the horse about its own perceptions of its living conditions and even working conditions,” said Séverine Henry, PhD, of the University of Rennes in France.
“This constitutes an indispensable step in establishing management practices or working conditions which contribute toward an improvement of the horse’s quality of life or toward better prophylactic care such as treatment for back pain,” she said. Henry presented her study on equine optimism at the 2016 French Equine Research Day held in March in Paris.
In their study, the horses with the highest levels of welfare also had the highest levels of optimism in their experiments, Henry said. By contrast, however, poor welfare was always associated with pessimism in the study horses.
We first reported on optimism studied in horses in 2013 when Swiss researchers compared the effects of positive and negative reinforcement on a horse’s outlook (as optimistic or pessimistic).
In both the 2013 experiment and the current study, the test horses were first trained to recognize that only one of two widely spaced buckets in an arena contained treats. The &l