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Stenfelt, Johanna, 2022. Can cows watch and learn? : a study on social learning in dairy cattle. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Agricultural Biosystems and Techology

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Animals can learn new behaviour through both individual and social learning. Individual learning occurs through an individual’s own experience of trial and error, whereas social learning is influenced by observing or interacting with other individuals. Social learning in cattle remains largely unexplored. This study aimed to investigate if dairy cows possess the cognitive abilities to acquire new behaviour through intra-species social learning in a spatial detour task. In a detour task, the animal must navigate around an obstacle to reach a reward. This requires the animal to momentarily increase its distance to the reward, in order to achieve the goal of reaching it. The information transfer between conspecifics can be studied by allowing the animal to observe a trained demonstrator performing the detour task. The hypothesis was that cows that were allowed to first observe a trained demonstrator would be more successful in solving the detour task (i.e. reach the reward in fewer trials) and do so with shorter latencies compared to cows in the control group. Contrary to what was expected, the study did not find any significant differences in success or latency between observers and controls. Instead, age appeared to be the most influencing factor with younger cows being significantly more successful and having shorter latencies. It was hypothesized that observers would favour the demonstrated route whereas controls would evenly choose between both available routes, but the study found no significant effect of treatment on the choice of route. As expected, the observers spent a greater proportion of the time before trials (i.e. during demonstration) facing the test arena than controls did, indicating that they were observing the demonstrator. Collectively, the results indicate that cows did not utilize social learning mechanisms when solving a spatial detour task. The role of motivation, age, and dominance relationships is further discussed, as well as potential evolutionary advantages of social learning, practical implications of the results, and suggestions on improvements for future studies.

Main title:Can cows watch and learn?
Subtitle:a study on social learning in dairy cattle
Authors:Stenfelt, Johanna
Supervisor:Vilain Rörvang, Maria and Yngvesson, Jenny
Examiner:Blokhuis, Harry
Volume/Sequential designation:UNSPECIFIED
Year of Publication:2022
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:VM006 Animal Science - Master's Programme
Supervising department:(LTJ, LTV) > Dept. of Agricultural Biosystems and Techology
Keywords:social cognition, spatial detour task, social transmission, dairy cows, cattle cognition
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Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Animal ecology
Deposited On:03 May 2022 10:37
Metadata Last Modified:04 May 2022 01:00

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