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Anim Cogn. 2009 Jul;12(4):611-9. doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0220-5. Epub 2009 Mar 13.

Socially dependent auditory laterality in domestic horses (Equus caballus).

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Université de Rennes I, EthoS, Ethologie animale et humaine-UMR 6552-CNRS Station Biologique de Paimpont, 35380, Paimpont, France.


Laterality is now known to be an ubiquitous phenomenon among the vertebrates. Particularly, laterality of auditory processing has been demonstrated in a variety of species, especially songbirds and primates. Such a hemispheric specialization has been shown to depend on factors such as sound structure, species specificity and types of stimuli. Much less is known on the possible influence of social familiarity although a few studies suggest such an influence. Here we tested the influence of the degree of familiarity on the laterality of the auditory response in the domestic horse. This species is known for its social system and shows visible reactions to sounds, with one or two ears moving towards a sound source. By comparing such responses to the playback of different conspecific whinnies (group member, neighbor and stranger), we could demonstrate a clear left hemisphere (LH) preference for familiar neighbor calls while no preference was found for group member and stranger calls. Yet, we found an opposite pattern of ear side preference for neighbor versus stranger calls. These results are, to our knowledge, the first to demonstrate auditory laterality in an ungulate species. They open further lines of thought on the influence of the social "value" of calls and the listener's arousal on auditory processing and laterality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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