Horses can actually read human feelings, a recent study has shown. Horse breeds can tell whether humans are angry or happy, and they do it by analyzing our facial expressions.
CNN reports that a horse study done by the University of Sussex in the UK revealed that after 28 horses were shown large color photographs of human facial expressions for 30 seconds, their body language and physical responses adjusted accordingly.
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For instance, when shown a picture of an angry face, the horses heart rate increased significantly.
“What’s really interesting about this research is that it shows horses have the ability to read emotions across the species barrier. We have known for a long time that horses are a socially sophisticated species but this is the first time we have seen that they can distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions,” said Amy Smith, a student in the university’s mammal vocal communication and cognition research group.
The horse study also revealed another interesting trait: The horses used their left eye to recognize aggressive facial expressions, which is normally seen as a negative reaction.
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That’s because information going through the horses left eye is processed in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area specializing in threatening environments.
“The reaction to angry facial expressions was particularly clear – there was a quicker increase in their heart rate, and the horses moved their heads to look at the angry faces with their left eye,” Amy Smith continued.
According to the Guardian, the horse study isn’t the first time we’ve discovered animals can recognize our emotions. Dogs look at humans with their left eye when they’re feeling threatened or taking in something scary.
“These findings raise interesting questions about the nature of emotional expression recognition, including the relative roles of learning and innate skills in its development,” the scientists explained.
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On a deeper level, the horse study may have just discovered something that had been happening for many years before.
Karen McComb, the co-lead author of the study, said, “Horses may have adopted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution. Alternatively, individual horses may have learned to interpret human expressions during their own lifetime.”
This is definitely an interesting study, but a similar horse study done by the exact same research team last year shows that horses have 17 different facial expressions to indicate their current mood.
They have more facial expressions than dogs and chimpanzees, but not cats, who have 21 facial expressions.
The scientists write, “It is apparent that horses also have an extensive range of facial movements, sharing many Action Units with humans and other animals. This contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the evolution of facial expressions was not driven entirely by phylogenetic pressures, but that other, socio-ecological factors had a significant influence.”
This just means that horses were able to develop their own facial expressions over time, accounting for their higher amount of emotional flexibility over dogs and chimpanzees.
Horses are incredible creatures. Time and time again, they’ve shown that they’re much smarter than we give them credit for, and this horse study just goes to prove that again.
[Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images]