Goats can distinguish happy faces from angry ones

Posted August 31, 2018

Could goats be a man's best friend?

While the sample size of this study is small, it's compelling first evidence into how goats process not only human emotions, but also those of other animals. Fifteen of the goats could not be trained to walk across their enclosure for the facial recognition tests.

In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, the team notes that the goats in the study "preferred to interact first with happy faces, meaning that they are sensitive to human facial emotional cues".

The study suggests that goats seemed to have picked up a few human-reading tricks over their history as domesticated animals.

They measured three things: The kind of faces that the goats viewed, how they interacted with the faces and the amount of time the goats spent looking at the faces.

Shown two pictures of the same person - one with a happy expression and the other angry - 20 domesticated goats in an experiment were more likely to approach the smiling image and touch it with their snout, said researchers from Europe and Brazil.

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An global team of researchers led by Alan McElligott of London's Queen Mary University showed images of happy and angry human faces to goats and monitored their responses.

The researchers believe their work has implications for understanding how animals process human emotions and facial cues.

"A$3 n initial selection for tameness and a thus reduced emotional reactivity might have been sufficient to enhance a general human-animal communication set of skills in domestic animals."
The researchers did find, however, that the goats only exhibited this preference when the smiling faces were positioned on the right side of the enclosure.

They are also used for research models in biological studies, to pull carts and for pack animals.

"These findings challenge the idea that such complex ability is limited to companion or working animals", says Savalli Redigolo. In a new study, goats are found as proficient face readers.

They added: "We present the first evidence that goats can discriminate human facial expressions with different emotional information".

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