Goats are able to recognize and adapt to human moods, according to new research published in the Royal Society Open Science. Everyone knows that certain pets, like dogs and cats, are able to recognize human emotions. However, that ability has not been tested on too many other species.
To shed light on that, a group of international scientists gathered up a herd of goats and put two photographs of the same human face — one happy and one sad — on a wall in front of them. During the study, the photos were frequently changed so that each goat saw a number of different faces.
The team found that the animals tended to avoid angry human faces and approach happy ones. That pattern held up across all animals, suggesting that they are able to tell the differences in human emotions.
In addition, as the goats specifically went to faces on the right-hand side of the wall, the team behind the study believes that positive emotions could be processed on the left-hand side of the animal’s brains.
“We already knew that goats are very attuned to human body language, but we did not know how they react to different human emotional expressions, such as anger and happiness,” said lead author Christian Nawroth, a researcher at the Queen Mary University of London, according to Newsweek. “Here, we show for the first time that goats do not only distinguish between these expressions, but they also prefer to interact with happy ones.”
The new findings were surprising to the team. Though they expected the goats to largely ignore the pictures, the animals spent a lot of time investigating the images before making their decision.
They are not sure, but scientists believe the goats went to the happy pictures because they have learned to have associate smiling people with positive interactions.
That discovery is not only significant from a biological standpoint, but it also gives new insight into human-livestock interaction. That could be useful down the line.
“The study has important implications for how we interact with livestock and other species, because the abilities of animals to perceive human emotions might be widespread and not just limited to pets,” said study co-author Alan McElligott, a researcher at the Queen Mary University of London, according to Phys.org.