Apr 29, 2018
Researchers from the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth discovered that horses can read, remember and react to human expressions.
Researchers showed domestic horses photographs of an angry or happy human face. Several hours later, they introduced the horses to the actual person photographed. The human subject didn't know which photos the horses had seen, which meant they all displayed neutral behavior. But the horses reacted differently depending on the photo they'd seen. Animals process threatening stimuli in their right brain-hemisphere, using their left eye, so the direction of the horse's gaze revealed their read of the photograph.
Not only did the horses meet neutral behaving humans, but the differences in reaction only applied to the person the horses saw in the photo, and not to strangers. Meaning: horses have a memory for emotion. Dr. Leanne Proops, co-author of the study published in Current Biology, said: “We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time any mammal has been shown to have this particular ability. What’s very striking is that this happened after just briefly viewing a photograph of the person with a particular emotional expression – they did not have a strongly positive or negative experience with the person.”
Previous research have shown that horses can recognize human expressions. Understanding horses' perception and memory of human expressions can help with social bonding and aggression avoidance. Previously in animals-recognizing-humans: sheep can be trained to recognize humans from photographs, and some were able to recognize their handlers without any training at all. While humans often rely on visual information to recognize others, animals can recognize family and friends by a variety of sensory cues, from scent to touch to sound.