Lateralized visual processing in cattle herds - why is there a “near side” and “off side” for human-animal interactions? — ASN Events

Lateralized visual processing in cattle herds - why is there a “near side” and “off side” for human-animal interactions? (#496)

Andrew Robins 1 , Lucie Ouine 2 , Clive J.C. Phillips 1
  1. Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD, Australia
  2. IFIP - Institut du Porc, Rennes, France

When challenged individually or in small groups with novel visual stimuli, domestic horses and cattle have been found to possess a significant preference to use the left eye (right brain hemisphere) to first inspect and cognitively process the potential threat [1-4]. By contrast, familiar, non-threatening stimuli are preferentially viewed with the right eye. These forms of lateralized visual processing correspond with similar studies in other mammals, birds and reptiles, and reflect lateralized control of the autonomic flight/fight system in vertebrates. However, the findings present a paradox to traditional handling methods of haltered livestock, in which their left flank is referred to as the “near side”, and right flank as the “off side”. While common interpretation of the origin of these terms relates to the right-handedness of the human rider, bullock-train or coach driver, we present here new findings of visual preferences in cattle suggesting how livestock may tolerate a novel human on their immediate left, and not right, side. Results from a series of approach tests of 18 pens of cattle feeding in large groups of 90-120 head reveal that cattle are initially more likely to take flight when the human is unable to be viewed with the left eye. Approach of the human from the right visual field is less well tolerated in cattle without social companions on their left side: they cease feeding and depart the feed bunk. By contrast, acceptance of the approach of a novel human is more likely when viewed within the left, and not right visual field. This is especially true of cattle with social companions on their immediate right side.  We will discuss this new finding of lateralized social cooperation in cattle herds as a strategy to mitigate the stress of human-animal interaction, within the broader context of domestication. 1

  1. De Boyer Des Roches, A., Richard-Yris, M.-A., Henry, S., Ezzaouïa, M., & Hausberger, M. (2008). Laterality and emotions: Visual laterality in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) differs with objects’ emotional value. Physiology & Behavior, 94(3), 487–490.
  2. Farmer, K., Krueger, K., & Byrne, R. W. (2010). Visual laterality in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) interacting with humans. Animal Cognition, 13(2), 229–238.
  3. Robins, A., & Phillips, C. (2010). Lateralised visual processing in domestic cattle herds responding to novel and familiar stimuli. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 15(5), 514–534.
  4. Phillips, C. J. C., Oevermans, H., Syrett, K. L., Jespersen, A. Y., & Pearce, G. P. (2015). Lateralization of behavior in dairy cows in response to conspecifics and novel persons. Journal of Dairy Science.