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How do horses understand human emotional feelings

Horses

Have you ever asked yourself how horses understand human feelings??


Maybe you have thought if horses are actually able to understand human feelings


Scientists demonstrated for the first time that horses integrate human facial expressions and voice tones to perceive human emotion, regardless of whether the person is familiar or not.

Like fearful humans, horses raise the inner brow of their eyes when threatened or surprised. Altogether their faces can convey 17 emotions (ours express 27), and they readily recognize the expressions on their fellow equines.

 But can they read our facial cues? To find out, researchers tested 28 horses, including 21 geldings and seven mares, from stables in the United Kingdom.

Each horse was led by his/her halter rope to a position in the stable, and then presented with a life-size color photograph of the face of a man. The man was either smiling or frowning angrily.

The scientists recorded the animals’ reactions, and measured their heart rates.

 Other studies have shown that stressed horses’ heart rates fluctuate, and when the horses looked at the angry man, their hearts reached a maximum heart rate more quickly than when they viewed the smiling image.

When shown the angry face, 20 of the horses also turned their heads so that they could look at it with their left eye a response that suggests they understood the expression, because the right hemisphere of the brain is specialized for processing negative emotions.

 Dogs, too, have this “left-gaze bias” when confronting angry faces. Also, like dogs, the horses showed no such bias, such as moving their heads to look with the right eye, when viewing the happy faces perhaps because the animals don’t need to respond to nonthreatening cues.

But an angry expression carries a warning the person may be about to strike.

 The discovery that horses as well as dogs the only two animals this has been tested in can read our facial expressions spontaneously and without training suggests one of two things:

 Either these domesticated species devote a lot of time to learning our facial cues, or the ability is innate and more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought.

Recent studies showed the herd-forming animal possesses high communication capabilities, and can read the emotions of their peers through facial expressions and contact calls, or whinnies.

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Horses have long been used as a working animal and also as a companion animal in sports and leisure, establishing close relationships with humans just like dogs do with people.

Dogs are known to relate human facial expressions and voices to perceive human emotions, but little has been known as to whether horses can do the same.

In the present study to be published in Scientific Reports, Associate Professor Ayaka Takimoto of Hokkaido University, graduate student Kosuke Nakamura of The University of Tokyo, and former Professor Toshikazu Hasegawa of The University of Tokyo, used the expectancy violation method to investigate whether horses cross-modally perceive human emotion by integrating facial expression and voice tone.

They also tested whether the familiarity between the horse and the person affected the horse's perception.

The expectancy violation method has been used to study infant cognitive development.

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Horses were shown a picture of a happy facial expression or an angry facial expression on a screen, and they then heard a pre-recorded human voice praising or scolding from a speaker behind the screen.

 Horses received both the congruent condition, in which the emotional values of facial expression and voice tone were matched, and the incongruent condition, in which they were not.

Results of the experiment showed that horses responded to voices 1.6 to 2.0 times faster in the incongruent condition than in the congruent condition regardless of familiarity of the person.

In addition, the horses looked to the speaker 1.4 times longer in the incongruent condition than in the congruent condition when the person was familiar.

These results suggest that horses integrate human facial expressions and voice tones to perceive human emotions, therefore an expectancy violation occurred when horses heard a human voice whose emotional value was not congruent with the human facial expression.

"Our study could contribute to the understanding of how humans and companion animals send and receive emotional signals to deepen our relationships, which could help establish a better relationship that emphasizes the well-being of animals," 

says Ayaka Takimoto of Hokkaido University.

Story source

Hokkaido University

Science mag

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