||Mirror Self-Recognition (MSR) is an extremely rare capacity in the animal kingdom that reveals the emergence of complex cognitive capacities (de Waal 2008). So far, MSR has been reported only in humans, chimpanzees (Gallup, 1970), bottlenose dolphins (Reiss and Marino, 2001) and Asian elephants (Plotnik et al, 2006), all species characterized by a highly developed cognition. There is growing evidence that domestic horses posses high cognitive abilities, such as cross-modal individual recognition (Proops et al, 2009), triadic post-conflict reunion to maintain social homeostasis (Cozzi et al, 2010), complex communicative systems (Whatan and McComb, 2014), flexibility in problem-solving (Lovrovich et al, 2015), and long-term memory (Hanggi and Ingersoll, 2009). All these capacities make horses a good candidate to test the ability of MSR in a domestic species. Through a classical MSR experimental paradigm (de Waal 2008) we tested eight horses living in social groups under semi-natural conditions (from the Italian Horse Protection rescue centre). Animals showing MSR typically go through four stages (Plotnik et al, 2006): (i) social response, (ii) physical mirror inspection (e.g., looking behind the mirror), (iii) repetitive mirror-testing behaviour (i.e., the beginning of mirror understanding), and (iv) self-directed behaviour (i.e., recognition of the mirror image as self). The final stage, known as the “mark-test”, is verified when a subject spontaneously uses the mirror to check for a coloured artificial mark on its own body which it cannot perceive otherwise. The horses underwent a three-phase “mark-test”: 1) with sham mark (transparent ultrasound water gel) positioned on both side at jaw level, 2) mark (yellow eye shadow mixed with ultrasound water gel) positioned on left side of jaw (with sham mark on the right), 3) mark (yellow eye shadow mixed with ultrasound water gel) positioned on right side of jaw (with sham mark on the left)
The mirror was one 0.5-cm-thick piece of 140x220-cm plexiglass glue on wood. Each test lasted one hour, horses were tested once a day, in consecutive days and at the same time. Our preliminary result on 1 horse shows some changes in self-directed behaviours which can be attributed to presence of the coloured mark. Firstly, the presence of the coloured mark significantly increased the frequency of scratching on both sides of the muzzle (p < 0.0001). The most intriguing result (p < 0.0001) comes from the comparison of the scratching rates directed towards the coloured mark side (N = 41) and the sham mark side (N = 23). Under the control condition (i.e. sham mark on both sides) no statistical difference was found for the scratching rates directed to the muzzle sides (dx N = 8; sx N = 5). Although further analyses are needed to confirm these preliminary results, our finding opens new scenarios about the evolution of Mirror Self-Recognition. The capacity of horses to recognize themselves in a mirror may be the outcome of an evolutionary convergence process driven by the cognitive pressures imposed by a complex social system and maintained despite thousands years of domestication.
Domestic horse · Mark test · Socio-cognitive skills · Self-awareness
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