Stress Modulates Instrumental Learning Performances in Horses (Equus caballus) in Interaction with Temperament

Mathilde Valenchon, Frédéric Lévy, Armelle Prunier, Chantal Moussu, Ludovic Calandreau, Léa Lansade*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The present study investigates how the temperament of the animal affects the influence of acute stress on the acquisition and reacquisition processes of a learning task. After temperament was assessed, horses were subjected to a stressor before or after the acquisition session of an instrumental task. Eight days later, horses were subjected to a reacquisition session without any stressor. Stress before acquisition tended to enhance the number of successes at the beginning of the acquisition session. Eight days later, during the reacquisition session, contrary to non-stressed animals, horses stressed after acquisition, and, to a lesser extent, horses stressed before acquisition, did not improve their performance between acquisition and reacquisition sessions. Temperament influenced learning performances in stressed horses only. Particularly, locomotor activity improved performances whereas fearfulness impaired them under stressful conditions. Results suggest that direct exposure to a stressor tended to increase acquisition performances, whereas a state of stress induced by the memory of a stressor, because it has been previously associated with the learning context, impaired reacquisition performances. The negative effect of a state of stress on reacquisition performances appeared to be stronger when exposure to the stressor occurred after rather than before the acquisition session. Temperament had an impact on both acquisition and reacquisition processes, but under stressful conditions only. These results suggest that stress is necessary to reveal the influence of temperament on cognitive performances.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere62324
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2013


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