Horses Can Read Human Emotions Just by Looking at Us

First Posted: Feb 10, 2016 06:45 AM EST

It's not just dogs that have a connection with humans. Horses also are intelligent animals and, according to a new study, can actually read human emotions.

In this latest study, psychologists studied how 28 horses reacted to seeing photographs of positive versus negative human facial expressions. When viewing angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behavior associated with perceiving negative stimuli.

The researchers also found that the horse's heart rate increased more quickly and they showed more stress-related behaviors when seeing negative human emotions.

"What's really interesting about this research is that it shows that horses have the ability to read emotions across the species barrier," said Amy Smith, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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. The reaction to the 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."

Many species view negative events with their left eye due to the right brain's hemisphere's specialization for processing threatening stimuli.

"It's interesting to note that the horses had a strong reaction to the negative expressions but less so to the positive," said Smith. "This may be because it is particularly important for animals to recognize threats in their environment. In this context, recognizing angry faces may act as a warning system, allowing horses to anticipate negative human behavior such as rough handling."

The findings are published in the journal Biology Letters.

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