Goats (Capra hircus) from different selection lines differ in their behavioural flexibility

  • Key finding:

    Given that domestication provided animals with more stable environmental conditions, artificial selection by humans has likely affected animals' ability to learn novel contingencies and their ability to adapt to changing environments. In addition, the selection for specific traits in domestic animals might have an additional impact on subjects' behavioural flexibility, but also their general learning performance, due to a re-allocation of resources towards parameters of productivity. To test whether animals bred for high productivity would experience a shift towards lower learning performance, we compared the performance of dwarf goats (not selected for production) and dairy goats (selected for high milk yield) in a visual discrimination learning and reversal learning task. Goats of both selection lines did not differ in the initial discrimination learning task. However, dwarf goats reached the learning criterion faster in the reversal learning task. Our results suggest that the selection for milk production might have affected behavioural flexibility in goats. These differences in adapting to changing environmental stimuli might have an impact on animal welfare e.g., when subjects have to adapt to new environments or changes in housing and management routines.

Links to Open Access Publications or DOI:


Nawroth C, Rosenberger K, Keil NM and Langbein J (2022) Goats (Capra hircus) From Different Selection Lines Differ in Their Behavioural Flexibility. Front. Psychol. 12:796464. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.796464