Mirror-mediated string-pulling task in Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius)

Abstract

Mirror tasks can be used to investigate whether animals can instrumentally use a mirror to solve problems and can understand the correspondence between reflections and the real objects they represent. Two bird species, a corvid (New Caledonian crow) and a parrot (African grey parrot), have demonstrated the ability to use mirrors instrumentally in mirror-mediated spatial locating tasks. However, they have not been challenged with a mirror-guided reaching task, which involves a more complex understanding of the mirror’s properties. In the present study, a task approximating the mirror-guided reaching task used in primate studies was adapted for, and given to, a corvid species (Eurasian jay) using a horizontal string-pulling paradigm. Four birds learned to pull the correct string to retrieve a food reward when they could see the food directly, whereas none used the reflected information to accomplish the same objective. Based on these results, it cannot be concluded whether these birds understand the correspondence between the location of the reward and its reflected information, or if the relative lack of visual-perceptual motor feedback given by the setup interfered with their performance. This novel task is posited to be conceptually more difficult compared to mirror-mediated spatial locating tasks, and should be used in avian species that have previously been successful at using the mirror instrumentally. This would establish whether these species can still succeed at it, and thus whether the task does indeed pose additional cognitive demands.

Spaced training enhances equine learning performance

Abstract

This field experiment examined whether the well-documented benefit of spaced over massed training for humans and other animals generalizes to horses. Twenty-nine randomly selected horses (Equus ferus caballus) repeatedly encountered a novel obstacle-crossing task while under saddle. Horses were randomly assigned to the spaced-training condition (2 min work, 2 min rest, 2 min work, 2 min rest) or the massed-training condition (4 min work, 4 min rest). Total training time per session and total rest per session were held constant. Days between sessions (M = 3) were held as consistent as possible given the constraints of conducting research on a working ranch and safety–threatening weather conditions. During each training session, the same hypothesis-naïve rider shaped horses to cross a novel obstacle. Fifteen of 16 horses in the spaced-training condition reached performance criterion (94% success) while only 5 of 13 horses in the massed-training condition reached performance criterion (39% success). Horses in the spaced-training condition also initiated their first obstacle-crossing faster than horses in the massed-training condition and were faster at completing eight crossings than horses in the massed-training condition. Overall, task acquisition was higher for horses undergoing spaced training despite both groups experiencing the same total work and rest time per session. These findings generalize the learning-performance benefit observed in human spaced practice to horses and offer applied benefit to equine training.