Hall, C., Goodwin, D., Heleski, C., Randle, H. and Waran, N.
Is there evidence of “Learned Helplessness” in horses?
Goodwin, D., Heleski, C., McGreevy, P., McLean, A., Randle, H., Skelley, C., van Dierendonk, M. and Waran, N. (eds.)
Proceedings of the 3rd International Equitation Science Conference.
3rd International Equitation Science Conference
Michigan State University Press.
Learned helplessness can be defined as a psychological condition whereby individuals learn that they have no control over unpleasant or harmful conditions, that their actions are futile and that they are helpless. In a series of experiments in which dogs were exposed to inescapable shocks it was found that this lack of control subsequently interfered with the ability to learn an avoidance task. There is evidence that both neural adaptations and behavioural despair occur in response to uncontrollable aversive experiences in rodents, although this has yet to be demonstrated in other species such as horses. However, it has been suggested that certain traditional methods of horse training and some behavioral modification techniques may involve aversive conditions over which the horse has little or no control. When training and management procedures are repeatedly unpleasant for the horse and there is no clear association between behavior and outcome, this is likely to interfere with learning and performance, in addition to compromising welfare. This paper reviews published literature and anecdotal evidence to explore the possibility that the phenomenon ‘learned helplessness’ occurs in the horse.
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