Science & Equine

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Horses respond to human facial expressions of emotion

Photographs of male's with a positive (happy) and a neagtive (angry) face where used in this study. The results showed that looking at the angry faces horses displayed a left-gaze bias (a lateralization generally associated with stimuli perceived as negative) and a quicker increase in heart rate (HR) towards these photographs. HR measures have the potential to provide objective insights into an animal's perception of external stimuli. In horses, HR correlates with behavioural indices of stress and fluctuates according to handler stress, demonstrating a potential physiological sensitivity to human affect.

Horses are an ideal model for research into interspecific communication of emotion, because they are able to both produce complex facial expressions and perceive these in conspecifics, as well as being sensitive to human-given signals including facial cues. The behavioural and physiological results reported here support the hypothesis that horses are able to recognize and respond in a functionally relevant way to heterospecific (human) facial expressions of anger.


> From: Smith et al., Biology letters 12 (2016) -. All rights reserved to The Authors. Click here for the online summary.

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