Horses perceive human emotions and remember them

Domestic horses can read and remember the emotional expressions of humans, British researchers have shown.

Previous research had shown that horses recognize human facial expressions, but this is the first to establish that they can remember emotional experiences with particular individuals.

Animal behavior psychologist Karen McComb and her colleagues at the universities of Sussex and Portsmouth believe that horses use this ability to remember human emotions to identify people who might pose a potential threat to their safety.

This ability could also be useful to them in building social connections.

What we have discovered is that horses can not only read human facial expressions, but also remember the emotional state of a person when they see them later in the day.

Karen McComb

“This ability allows them to adapt their behavior accordingly,” adds Karen McComb.

To achieve this, researchers conducted controlled experiments in which they presented horses with photographs of an angry or happy human face. A few hours later, the animals met this person who took good care to keep a neutral expression on his face.

However, the short exposure to the photograph of the person’s facial expression was sufficient to generate clear differences in horse behavior when they met the person later in the day.

The researchers found that despite the neutral expression of humans when they met, the direction of the horses’ gaze revealed that they perceived the person more negatively if they had previously seen him angry rather than happy. on the picture.

We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time that a mammal has been shown to have this special ability.

Leanne Proops, University of Portsmouth

It should be noted that, in the current experience, humans did not know what photographs the horses had seen before, in order to avoid any risk of behaving differently.

What strikes the authors of this work published in the journal Current Biology is that the behavior of the horses occurred after only briefly seeing a picture of the person with a particular emotional expression – they had not lived a strongly positive or negative experience with the person.

By 201 6 , other British researchers had shown that dogs could, from facial expressions and voice intonations, know the mood of a person.

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