Goats learn complex multi-step tasks quickly, they remember for a long time (10 months) but they don’t seem to benefit from watching other goats perform the same task.
Goats excel at learning and remembering a highly novel cognitive task
We assessed the potential selection pressures behind the evolution of ungulate cognition, by testing social and physical cognition as well as long-term memory of a two-step task. Nine of twelve originally trained goats (75%) successfully learned the task within 8–22 trials. During the memory tests, all nine solved the task considerably faster than during the first exposures (< 2 min), indicating long-term memory. The presence of a demonstrator did not decrease the number of trials required to learn the task, suggesting that goats did not use social learning. Therefore, we propose that goat cognition could have been driven by the need to survive in harsh environments, more than by the computational demands of sociality. Our results could also explain why goats are so successful at colonizing new environments. Although comparisons with wild goats would be needed, our results indicate that goat domestication has not decreased their physical cognition abilities, but maybe their social learning skills. This challenges the common belief that domestic ungulates have low cognitive abilities and that clever animals necessarily have good social learning abilities. We propose that more experimental studies of species with relatively smaller brains should be carried out to gain a more thorough understanding of the evolution of cognition.