Science & Equine

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Written by Anouk van Breukelen

Image by: Anouk van Breukelen

Stress affects instrumental learning in domestic horses

In behavioral science a major question is how stress affects learning processes. It has been extensively studied in primates and rodents, but to a lesser extent in horses.

The results show that only when a stressor was present the learning was affected. However, learning was affected in a smaller amount when negative reinforcement was used. The negative reinforcement could have counterbalanced the impact of the stressor by focusing attention towards the learning task. Next to that, learning performance appears to differ between personalities. When negative reinforcement is used fearful horses are the best performers in the absence of stressors but the worst performers when stressors are present. On the contrary, when positive reinforcement is used, the fearful horses appear to be the worst performers with and without stressors.

Expert opinion by Anouk van Breukelen

This study provides fundamental and applied perspectives in understanding relationships between personalities and training abilities.

> From: Valenchon et al., PLOS ONE 12 (2017) e0170783. All rights reserved to Creative Commons Attribution License. Click here for the online summary.

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