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Selective attention in dairy cattle

In a replication of Reynolds (1961), two cows learned to discriminate between compound stimuli in a forced choice procedure where pushing through a one-way gate marked with a red cross (S+) gave access to food. Pushing through a one-way gate marked with a yellow triangle (S−) gave no access to food. To investigate whether shape or colour was controlling behaviour, probe tests varied either the shape or the colour of the stimuli (e.g., a red vs. a yellow cross, and a red cross vs. a red triangle). Results suggested control by colour rather than shape, as the gate marked with the red stimulus was chosen more than the gate marked with the yellow stimulus regardless of stimulus shape, and when two shapes of the same colour (either red or yellow) were presented, cows chose both equally. Further probe tests with painted red, white, and yellow stimuli showed that the cows had learned to avoid yellow rather than to approach red, suggesting discriminative behaviour was controlled by the colour of the negative stimulus and not by either aspect of the positive stimulus. It is not clear why the negative stimulus was more salient, but it may reflect a tendency for cows to learn to avoid farm handling practices which involve mainly negative stimuli.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Blackmore, T. L., Temple, W., & Foster, T. M. (2016). Selective attention in dairy cattle. Behavioural Processes, 129, 37–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2016.06.001
This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the journal: Behavioural Processes. © 2016 Elsevier.