Learn about memory straight from the horse’s mouth. In this experiment, you’ll tempt a horse with a delicious carrot and see if he can remember where that carrot may be hidden.
Problem: Can you train a horse to remember pictures?
- Pieces of carrot
- 2 pictures of a carrot
- Picture of an apple
- Picture of a pear
- 4 identical boxes
- First, create your boxes. Label two identical boxes with a picture of a carrot on the front, and put a carrot into one of the boxes. Put the other box aside.
- Mark another box with a picture of a pear, and a third box with a picture of an apple.
- If you train a horse to come to a box with a picture of a carrot on it, will it still go to that box if you take the carrot away? Can horses notice pictures and remember? Create your hypothesis.
- Put the boxes in a row: apple, pear, and then carrot. Put a carrot in the carrot box and leave the others empty.
- Bring the horse to the boxes, and show it the carrot in the carrot box. Feed the horse a piece of the carrot. Do this five times in a row.
- Replace the carrot box with the other empty box with the carrot picture on it, and move all the boxes around. The new box won’t smell like carrot.
- Bring the horse toward the boxes, and see what box the horse goes to. Does the horse visit the carrot box?
The horse will go to the box with the carrot picture on it.
If you have a horse, you know that it can be frustrating to train it. Sometimes it can feel like a horse has forgotten everything! However, horses have a great ability to remember objects and pictures, even if it’s been years since they’ve seen them.
In this experiment, you used a training technique called associative learning. You showed the horse the carrot and put it into the box marked with the picture of the carrot. When the horse nudged that box, you rewarded him with a piece of carrot. In the horse’s mind, this makes the connection between the carrot and that box.
Once you’ve made that connection, you can get the horse to choose the new box with just a carrot picture on it. This is because the horse now associates the picture with getting a carrot treat.
Why did you switch boxes? Like people, horses can smell tasty food, and you want to make sure that you’re testing his memory and not his smelling ability. Switching to a new box that looks the same as the old one helps you make sure that the horse is not just sniffing the box to find the one with the carrot.
What would happen if you wrote the name of each item on each box? Would the horse still remember?
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