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Talking Animals? Horses Can Communicate with Humans, New Study Reveals

Dec 19, 2016 08:07 PM EST

Over the years, several studies suggested that animals, particularly domesticated ones, can connect with humans in some way, shape, or form. Chimpanzees, dogs - and now, horses, too!

Horses can communicate with humans, especially when they're in dire need, using visual and tactile signals. This is what researchers from Kobe University Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Monamie Ringhofer and Associate Professor Shinya Yamamoto, discovered.

The study entitled "Domestic Horses Send Signals to Humans When They Face an Unsolvable Task" looked into horses' social cognitive skills with humans in a problem-solving kind of situation. Scientists conducted two experiments on eight horses of the university's equestrian club, Eureka Alert reported.

Describing the experiment in detail, a press release by Kobe University stated:

"For the first experiment, an assistant experimenter hid food (carrots) in a bucket which the horse could not reach. The researchers observed whether and how the horse sent signals to the caretaker when the caretaker (unaware of the situation) arrived. The horse stayed near the caretaker and looked at, touched and pushed the caretaker.

"These behaviors occurred over a significantly longer period compared to cases when they carried out the experiment without hiding the food. The results showed that when horses cannot solve problems by themselves they send signals to humans both visually (looking) and physically (touching and pushing).

"Building on these results, for the second experiment they tested whether the horses' behavior changed based on the caretakers' knowledge of the hidden food. If the caretaker hadn't watched the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals, demonstrating that horses can change their behavior in response to the knowledge levels of humans."

Published on the online version of Animal Cognition, the study found that horses have sophisticated cognitive abilities that allow them to flexibly modify their behavior towards humans, depending on the humans' knowledge at a given situation, which may have been developed through domestication. Experts believe the result could pave the way for future studies aimed at better understanding the role domestication plays on the cognitive response of animals, and the special bond between humans and animals.

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