Cross-modal individual recognition in domestic horses (Equus caballus) extends to familiar humans

Leanne Proops, Karen McComb

Abstract

It has recently been shown that some non-human animals can cross-modally recognize members of their own taxon. What is unclear is just how plastic this recognition system can be. In this study, we investigate whether an animal, the domestic horse, is capable of spontaneous cross-modal recognition of individuals from a morphologically very different species. We also provide the first insights into how cross-modal identity information is processed by examining whether there are hemispheric biases in this important social skill. In our preferential looking paradigm, subjects were presented with two people and playbacks of their voices to determine whether they were able to match the voice with the person. When presented with familiar handlers subjects could match the specific familiar person with the correct familiar voice. Horses were significantly better at performing the matching task when the congruent person was standing on their right, indicating marked hemispheric specialization (left hemisphere bias) in this ability. These results are the first to demonstrate that cross-modal recognition in animals can extend to individuals from phylogenetically very distant species. They also indicate that processes governed by the left hemisphere are central to the cross-modal matching of visual and auditory information from familiar individuals in a naturalistic setting.

  • Received March 19, 2012.
  • Accepted April 25, 2012.
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