Chino Hills, CA (PressExposure) April 12, 2011 -- Lukas, the World's Smartest Horse (according to the World Records Academy) and Guinness World Record Holder, will participate in an experiment designed to determine his level of self-awareness. Lukas' owner/trainer Karen Murdock was a recent guest on Horse Conscious (http://www.horseconscious.com), and this prompted a lively discussion and her further investigation into animal cognition and perception. For a long time, experts have claimed that humans and animals differ in two primary ways: the use of language and the capacity for self-awareness.
For this experiment, Murdock will utilize the mirror test, developed by Gordon Gallup in 1970 (based on observations by Charles Darwin). It determines whether an animal can recognize its own reflection in a mirror as an image of itself. Only humans (after the age of eighteen months), great apes, bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants and European magpies have passed the mirror test (Surprisingly, pigs, parrots and pigeons have not conclusively passed the test, to date). The duration of Lukas' experiment will be approximately three months.
Lukas will be introduced to his (Plexiglas) mirror and his response will be gauged. The test will be conducted by covertly marking Lukas with two odorless spots: the test spot will be on a part of Lukas which will be visible in front of a mirror, and the control spot which will be on an accessible but hidden part of his body. Videotaped recordings will document if Lukas reacts in a manner consistent with him being aware that the test spot is located on his own body, rather than on the mirror, while ignoring the control spot. Indications of awareness will include: turning and moving his body in order to better view the marking in the mirror, or poking at the marking on his body with his muzzle while viewing the mirror. If Lukas does not recognize his image, Murdock will attempt to teach this to him. No prior access to mirrors and not having the necessary previous experiences to use them could possibly be a factor in the event of Lukas' non-recognition.
According to most animal intelligence ranking scales, equine statistics are dismal: horses rank anywhere from fifth to ninth in intelligence comparisons between species. In addition, the horse population in general is thought to be a typically reactive group at the mercy of flight instincts and walnut-sized brains. Murdock believes that the commonly used repetitive machine trials to assess horses' learning capabilities are missing some important components: a social and interactive element, voice prompts and reinforcement variations. Furthermore, she proposes that the prevailing methods of force training are inadequate and even counter-productive. In contrast, Lukas' lessons resemble those used for children: enjoyable, gentle and a mutual exploration into possibilities.
Murdock, a psychiatric nurse for the last twenty-six years, and an animal trainer for over forty, will use her own particular blend of techniques, as always. Sessions with her dear friend will be brief, fun and tender and will include the following guidance: "That's you in the mirror, Lukas. You're a horse. I love you."