Goats differentiate human emotional facial expressions

Domestication has shaped the physiology and the behaviour of animals to better adapt to human environments. Therefore, human facial expressions have become highly informative for animals domesticated for working closely with people, such as dogs and horses. However, it is not known whether other animals, and particularly those domesticated primarily for production, such as goats, are capable of perceiving human emotional cues. In this study, we investigated whether goats can distinguish human facial expressions when simultaneously shown two images of an unfamiliar human, with different emotional valences (positive/happy or negative/angry). Overall, we found that goats are sensitive to human facial emotional cues and prefer to interact first with happy faces. Goats interacted first, more often and for longer with positive faces when they were positioned on the right side. This suggests engagement of the left brain hemisphere for discriminating positive emotional expressions. However, no preference was found when the positive faces were placed on the left side. We show that animals domesticated for production can discriminate human facial expressions with different emotional valences and prefer to interact with positive ones. Therefore, the impact of domestication on animal cognitive abilities may be more far-reaching than previously assumed.

Nawroth, C., Albuquerque, N., Savalli, C., Single, M.-S., McElligott, A. G. (2018) Goats prefer positive human emotional facial expressions. Royal Society Open Science 5: 180491.

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