Goats Excel at Learning and Remembering a Complex Tasks

Posted on March 29, 2014  Comments (1)

I like research showing animals using intelligence that seems advanced, for example: Crow Using a Sequence of Three ToolsInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantBird-brains smarter than your average apeTropical Lizards Can Solve Novel Problems and Remember the SolutionsPigeon Solves Box and Banana Problem.

I also like open access science, and this has both: Goats excel at learning and remembering a highly novel cognitive task

The majority of trained goats (9/12) successfully learned the task quickly; on average, within 12 trials. After intervals of up to 10 months, they solved the task within two minutes, indicating excellent long-term memory. The goats did not learn the task faster after observing a demonstrator than if they did not have that opportunity. This indicates that they learned through individual rather than social learning.”

The individual learning abilities and long-term memory of goats highlighted in our study suggest that domestication has not affected goat physical cognition. However, these cognitive abilities contrast with the apparent lack of social learning, suggesting that relatively intelligent species do not always preferentially learn socially. We propose that goat cognition, and maybe more generally ungulate cognition, is mainly driven by the need to forage efficiently in harsh environments and feed on plants that are difficult to access and to process, more than by the computational demands of sociality. Our results could also explain why goats are so successful at colonizing new environments.

The experiment was done with domesticated goats. I also learned this from the article, which I didn’t know before:

Domestication is known to strongly affect brain size. Consistent reductions in brain size relative to body size, as well as in brain size parts, have occurred in many domestic species.

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearFriday Fun: Bird Using Bait to FishPhoto of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam

All goats (demonstrators, observers and controls) were trained to perform the two-step task in the same way, using a shaping procedure, starting with the lift-lever step (i.e. the lever was already pulled out at the beginning of each trial and the goats had to lift it up to obtain the reward) and then the two steps in a row (i.e. the lever was inside and the goats had to perform the two steps; Additional file 2). Observers were exposed to a clearly visible demonstrator goat in an adjacent stable (“model–observer dyad” [48]), performing the task three times, before every learning trial (from trial 1 to success).

In total, 9/12 trained goats successfully learned the two-step task. This was done within 12.0 ± 1.4 trials (range = 8–22 trials; corresponding to 4.33 ± 0.54 days of training for the entire learning phase, range = 3–6 days; Table 1). Among these successful goats, the number of trials required to learn the task did not differ between goats that had a demonstrator (two observers: 11.5 ± 1.5 trials) and those that did not (four demonstrators and three controls: 12.1 ± 1.8 trials; linear model (LM): F1,1 = 0.96; P = 0.51), suggesting that goats did not learn the task socially.

One Response to “Goats Excel at Learning and Remembering a Complex Tasks”

  1. Oona Houlihan
    June 27th, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    I have been following the discussion about whether animals (and which species) are “intelligent”. First it was dolphins and primates, then goldfish were seen as capable as German shepherds (the dog breed :-), now goats and loads of birds although when I had biology in school all these species were out of the race because their brains were “too small”. That was back when computers filled whole floors. Maybe it is only since microprocessors become so small while becoming so powerful at a breathtaking pace, that humans learn some humility in that regard …

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