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Animals 2018, 8(12), 219; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8120219

Evidence for Right-Sided Horses Being More Optimistic than Left-Sided Horses

1
Department Equine Economics, Faculty Agriculture, Economics and Management, Nuertingen-Geislingen University, Neckarsteige 6-10, 72622 Nuertingen, Germany
2
Behavioural Physiology of Farm Animals, University of Hohenheim, Garbenstr. 17, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany
3
School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, St Mary’s Quad, South Street, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland KY16 9JP, UK
4
Zoology/Evolutionary Biology, University of Regensburg, Universitaetsstraße 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 28 October 2018 / Revised: 16 November 2018 / Accepted: 18 November 2018 / Published: 22 November 2018
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Simple Summary

Behaviour that indicates stress or poor welfare in horses can be very subtle and, especially for the lay person, difficult to assess. Furthermore, the absence of such behaviour does not necessarily indicate a healthy mental state. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate whether a preference for the left or right forelimb in different tasks (motor laterality) or for left or right sensory organs (sensory laterality) indicates a positive mental state (positive cognitive bias—optimism) or negative mental state (negative cognitive bias—pessimism). This study demonstrates that horses that use the right forelimb more often when starting to move off from a standing position (initial forelimb use) are more likely to expect a neutral stimulus to be positive and to be in an optimistic mental state than horses that use the left forelimb. This knowledge about the horses’ mental state can help us to improve their welfare by minimizing negative events. Furthermore, evaluation of the mental state of animals by determining motor laterality is quicker and easier than conventional tests for cognitive bias that include a long period of training.

Abstract

An individual’s positive or negative perspective when judging an ambiguous stimulus (cognitive bias) can be helpful when assessing animal welfare. Emotionality, as expressed in approach or withdrawal behaviour, is linked to brain asymmetry. The predisposition to process information in the left or right brain hemisphere is displayed in motor laterality. The quality of the information being processed is indicated by the sensory laterality. Consequently, it would be quicker and more repeatable to use motor or sensory laterality to evaluate cognitive bias than to perform the conventional judgment bias test. Therefore, the relationship between cognitive bias and motor or sensory laterality was tested. The horses (n = 17) were trained in a discrimination task involving a box that was placed in either a “positive” or “negative” location. To test for cognitive bias, the box was then placed in the middle, between the trained positive and negative location, in an ambiguous location, and the latency to approach the box was evaluated. Results indicated that horses that were more likely to use the right forelimb when moving off from a standing position were more likely to approach the ambiguous box with a shorter latency (generalized linear mixed model, p < 0.01), and therefore displayed a positive cognitive bias (optimistic). View Full-Text
Keywords: cognitive bias; motor; sensory; laterality; optimism; pessimism; judgment task; horse cognitive bias; motor; sensory; laterality; optimism; pessimism; judgment task; horse
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Marr, I.; Farmer, K.; Krüger, K. Evidence for Right-Sided Horses Being More Optimistic than Left-Sided Horses. Animals 2018, 8, 219.

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