According to a recent study, your horse can tell if you are happy or not. A group of psychologists at the University of Sussex discovered that horses are able to read human facial expressions. According to them, these animals can distinguish between feelings such as sadness or happiness.
The researchers examined the responses of 28 horses to pictures of positive and negative facial expressions. The photographs were displayed to almost thirty horses from five different stables in Sussex and Surrey, UK. The research lasted from April 2014 to February 2015.
The animals were shown pictures of unfamiliar faces without being previously trained. Experts found that horses had a tendency to view angry faces with their left eye. Such behavior is usually employed when horses recognize negativity. Moreover they showed an increased heart rate as well as signs of stress.
Co-author of the study, Amy Smith, said horses’ reactions to negative feelings is more powerful than positive ones. She also added that this happens because the animals are prone to detect threats in their environment. According to her opinion,
“recognizing angry faces may act as a warning system, allowing horses to anticipate negative human behavior such as rough handling.”
Moreover, their research found that many species perceive negativity with their left eye. This happens because the brain’s right hemisphere is focused on detecting negative signs. It was thought that only dogs can read facial emotions.
However, according to experts, man’s best friend might be challenged by this new discovery about horses. Both dogs and horses use the same technique to read the facial expressions of their owners. Smith explained that horses can read emotions beyond the species barrier.
Such a process is possible in spite of the fact that the facial structure of humans and horses is totally different. Horses have been considered a socially sophisticated species. This is the first time, though, when scientists discovered they can actually recognize human expressions.
Katie McComb, another co-author, suggested they cannot tell yet how horses developed such abilities. She thinks these animals may have learned from others of their kind how to react to an individual’s facial emotions. Or, it is possible they gained this ability during their time spent among humans.
The research is part of an ongoing project on emotional awareness in horses that is supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Sussex. If you want to find further information on how your horse can tell if you’re happy or not you can find the research in the February issue of Biology Letters.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia