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Arousal, attachment and affective state.

McLean, A., Henshall, C., Starling, M., McGreevy, P. 2013. Arousal, attachment and affective state. Proceedings of the 9th International Equitation Science Conference, Eds: C. Heleski and C Wickens, University of Delaware. 50.

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Affective states and arousal levels may correlate with behavioral outcomes, so we see the need to explore the influence of both affective state and arousal on behavioral responses to operant conditioning. The horse’s need for safety may motivate a variety of unwelcome responses, including excessive arousal. This paper provides a framework for assessing how affective state and arousal may influence the efficacy of operant training methods. It presents a series of three-dimensional conceptual graphs as exemplars to describe putative influences of both affective state and arousal on the likelihood of horses performing commonly desired behaviors. These graphs are referred to as response landscapes. Response landscapes highlight the likely need for different approaches to suit animals in different affective states and at various levels of arousal. Beyond learning strategies such as positive reinforcement, attachment theory has long been established as the most salient socially cohesive phenomenon between human infants and caregivers. Recently, it has been extended to account for manifestations of adult human relationships and human-animal relationships. We explore this phenomenon within horse-human relationships by investigating the horse’s fundamental need for security through social cohesion. These needs are implied by the horse’s relatively large amygdala and, as an antidote to the physiological manifestation of anxiety, by the effect of tactile stimuli applied at a discrete cervical region which lowers the horse’s heart rate and likely, reduces fearfulness or insecurity. Being in the presence of an attachment figure may help to reduce arousal and bring about a positive affective state. Furthermore, the highly prized attribute of trust in animal–trainer dyads may be, at times at least, a manifestation of trainers as safety signals and attachment figures. Similarly, animals said to have confidence in and need for their handlers may value the relative safety those humans afford or represent.