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The social brain: emergence of social competences and their neurobiological basis in domestic horses

Project description

A closer look at the challenges of being social

What is the neurobiological basis for social behaviours? While social competences are crucial for social interactions, quality of life and chances of survival for both human and non-human social animals, socialisation can be easily disrupted. In this context, the EU-funded EQUISOBRAIN project will test the influence of disruption during the socialisation phase of young domestic horses living in groups and experiencing an optimal vs disrupted socialisation. The project will test whether social competences will emerge in both cases but at a higher level in the case of an optimal social environment. The project will also uncover a positive relation between high social competences and the neuroanatomy and basal connectivity of specific brain areas such as the hippocampus.

Objective

Emerging as a functional social being is more challenging than it appears, for both human and non-human social animals. Being fully functional does not only require to be capable of displaying the species-typical social behaviours, but also to display a certain degree of flexibility within their expression (i.e. social competences). Not many attempts have been made to draw the general pattern of social ontogeny, and even fewer about its neurobiological basis. Yet, social competences are crucial on many grounds (e.g. future social interactions, but also quality of life and ultimately chance of survival) and socialisation can be easily disrupted. This is especially true for domestic species that depend on human management, which is known to be often challenging. It suggests that many domestic animals might actually be prevented from developing normally and therefore to fully acquire social competences. With this project, I will test the influence of disruption during the socialisation phase of juveniles on the development of their social competences and the related neural substrates. To do this, I will conduct an ambitious longitudinal study combining behavioural and cognitive approach (to assess social competences) and non-invasive neuroimaging approach (using MRI and rs-fMRI techniques). I will compare young horses living in group and experiencing an optimal (N=10) vs. disrupted socialisation (N=10), the additional disruption being an imposed separation from their mother at pre-puberty age. I predict that social competences should emerge in both cases, thanks to other social partners, but at a higher level in case of optimal social environment. I also expect to find a positive relation between high social competences and the neuroanatomy and basal connectivity of specific brain areas (e.g. hippocampus, amygdala and neocortex). I will also test the presence of additional benefits associated with elevated social competences in terms of animal welfare.

Coordinator

INSTITUT NATIONAL DE RECHERCHE POUR L'AGRICULTURE, L'ALIMENTATION ET L'ENVIRONNEMENT
Net EU contribution
€ 196 707,84
Address
147 RUE DE L'UNIVERSITE
75007 Paris
France

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Region
Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Links
Total cost
€ 196 707,84