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Goats Learn from People

October 19, 2016

Domestic goats learn to do a challenging task by watching humans do it first.

Transcript

Figure setup Queen Mary University of London

A human demonstrates to a goat how to get around a barrier leading to a food reward; the goat then retrieves the food in the same way. (Queen Mary University of London)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The social wisdom of goats. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When tempted by food that’s behind a barrier, many animals will try to get at it  directly, by any means possible. But studies have shown that just by watching humans, dogs can quickly learn to go around the barrier to retrieve what they crave. Now, researchers report in the journal Animal Behaviour that goats can do the same thing.

CHRISTIAN NAWROTH (Queen Mary University of London):

We presented them with some pieces of dry pasta and they go crazy for this, so they are highly motivated to get the reward.

HIRSHON:

Queen Mary University of London researcher Christian Nawroth led the study.

NAWROTH:

The goats that have seen a human solving this task before, were significantly faster in solving this problem and get the reward.

HIRSHON:

Nawroth says understanding social learning in farm animals could improve their welfare.

NAWROTH:

The best thing working with the goats is that they never stop surprising me.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

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Story by Susanne Bard