According to a recent study, horses can distinguish if we are happy or angry. More exactly, It has been proven that they are able to discriminate between happy and angry human facial expressions.
We all know that dogs are known to understand and empathize with humans. Now, ‘man’s best friend’ may have some competition. The new discovery shows that horses may be just as good at understanding humans as dogs are. At least when it comes to us being angry.
Psychologists at the University of Sussex studied how 28 horses reacted to photographs of positive and negative human facial expressions. The horses were shown pictures of happy and angry unfamiliar male faces, with no training given to them beforehand.
The authors then observed the reactions of the horses as the photos were shown. They were not able to see the photos being flashed so as to avoid influencing the horses.
When looking at the angry faces, the horses viewed more with their left eye – a behaviour normally linked with perceiving negativity. Their heart rate also quickened and they showed more stress-related signs, the study, which is published in Biology Letters, found.
It gives us a real insight into how they are viewing the situation and shows clearly that they see it as negative.
says co-study leader Karen McComb.
The observation goes to show that angry facial expressions do not go unnoticed for horses. In fact, it results in negative effects to behavior and function. Horses may also view angry faces as warning signs that makes them anticipate bad human action such as rough handling.
Professor McComb claims there are various potential explanations for their study results. First, horses may have acquired this ability from its ancestors. The species may have adapted emotional cues reading from other horses through time and this enables them to apply that ability to human facial expressions in its co-evolution.
Secondly, horses may have learned this ability from experience. McComb says emotional awareness is possibly very vital in highly social animals like horses.
The co-lead author of the research added that emotional awareness is likely to be very important in highly social species like horses, and the psychologists’ ongoing research will not cease to examine the relationship between a range of emotional skills and social behaviour.
So is this ability to read human emotions something that was adapted over time or is it just a horse-by-horse scenario? Hard to tell. But it’s likely something that researchers will continue to look into as they study the relationship between the animal’s emotional skills and social behavior.
Image Source: horseofmydreams.com