Human Emotions Are Understood by Horses

It may come as no surprise to some that human emotions are understood by horses.

Still from War Horse movie from DreamWorks Pictures.

It seems each day brings us closer to understanding the animal species that share planet Earth with us. A recent study has just proven that human emotions are understood by horses, the closest companions to man along with dogs. Researchers have found out that the sensible animals can distinguish between positive and negative human expressions.

The study was conducted by researchers coming from University of Sussex, who have previously created a list of facial cues of horses and their meanings. After demonstrating that the creatures have emotions, the team is now going even further and proving that they can understand our own human expressions.

Twenty-eight horses were observed for the research study that has reached the conclusion that dogs are not the only species that understand humans. Even though they hold the title of man’s best friend, horses are not far from it as well, considering all the help they gave us in farming, transportation and war. Taking this into consideration, the news might not be so surprising after all.

So how did the researchers proceed? Well, first they took some color pictures of a man, compiling a set of different human expressions from angry and frightened to calm and happy. The photos were shown to twenty-eight horses from five different livery and riding stables in Sussex. The scientists examined the reactions of the horses upon seeing the pictures.

The results were impressive. When presented with negative human expressions, horses tended to look at them with their left eye, which is linked to the right hemisphere of the brain, also used to handle threatening situations. Furthermore, their heart rate increased each time they gazed upon such images. Such behavior is very similar to the one of dogs.

This was all the proof scientists needed in order to understand that horses could identify and recognize different human attitudes, emotions and expressions. Amy Smith, mammal vocal cognition and communication expert, pointed out the fact that horses have thus broken the barrier between species, even though humans have nothing in common with them.

Katie McComb, one of the co-authors of the study, has declared that the origins of this incredible ability of horses have yet to be discovered. They might have been born with it or could simply learn to recognize expressions during their lifetime, which means they have extraordinary cognitive abilities. Whatever the cause, the fact that human emotions are understood by horses proves once again how valuable the animal species are.

Image Source: LA Times Blog

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