Cute overload: Dwarf goats track hidden objects

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Cute overload: Dwarf goats track hidden objects

Dwarf goats have more in common with young children than you might think: adorable faces, ear-piercing screams, and now object permanence—the understanding that things still exist even when they disappear from view. The ability typically develops in humans between 8 and 12 months of age; it’s the reason peekaboo never gets old for babies. Previous studies have shown that other animals such as dogs, cats, and various primates reach different stages of object permanence, but a new study is the first to investigate its existence in the tiny ungulates, researchers will report in the June issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Using female Nigerian dwarf goats (Capra aegagrus hircus, pictured), the scientists tested the animals’ skill in tracking hidden objects in a series of experiments. In one, the goats watched as a researcher hid the reward—an uncooked piece of pasta—beneath the same plastic cup several times. When the scientist changed course and hid the pasta again—in full sight—under one of the two empty cups nearby, six out of nine goats successfully found it. In another experiment, researchers concealed the pasta in a plastic cup, again under the watchful eye of the goat. They then slid the newly filled cup past another plastic one—which also held pasta to prevent the goat from potentially sniffing out its treat—so that the two cups crossed paths. When the two cups were identical, the researchers found, the goats had a harder time tracking the food. When the cups were different colors and shapes, however, more goats found the hidden morsel, implying that the visual cues helped the goats better follow the pasta’s path. Keeping track of that relatively tricky trajectory implies a higher stage of object permanence development that no other nonprimate mammal is known to have, the researchers say. For dwarf goats, it seems, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind, at least when it comes to uncooked pasta.

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