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Goats' behaviour in a competitive food paradigm: Evidence for perspective taking?

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Many mammalian species are highly social, creating intra-group competition for such things as food and mates. Recent research with nonhuman primates indicates that in competitive situations individuals know what other individuals can and cannot see, and they use this knowledge to their advantage in various ways. In the current study, we extended these findings to a non-primate species, the domestic goat, using the conspecific competition paradigm developed by Hare et al. (2000). Like chimpanzees and some other nonhuman primates, goats live in fission-fusion societies, form coalitions and alliances, and are known to reconcile after fights. In the current study, a dominant and a subordinate individual competed for food, but in some cases the subordinate could see things that the dominant could not. In the condition where dominants could only see one piece of food but subordinates could see both, subordinates' preferences depended on whether they received aggression from the dominant animal during the experiment. Subjects who received aggression preferred the hidden over the visible piece of food, whereas subjects who never received aggression significantly preferred the visible piece. By using this strategy, goats who had not received aggression got significantly more food than the other goats. Such complex social interactions may be supported by cognitive mechanisms similar to those of chimpanzees. We discuss these results in the context of current issues in mammalian cognition and socio-ecology.

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