Goats are able to distinguish different human expressions and prefer smiling faces to angry faces, according to a study.
“We knew that the goats paid attention to human body language but we did not know how they reacted to certain expressions such as anger or happiness,” Christian Nawroth, the first author of this study, published in the Royal Society Open Science, told AFP.
“We showed for the first time that goats are not only able to distinguish these expressions but also that they prefer to interact with happy faces,” adds this biologist, employed at Queen Mary University in London.
The experiment was carried out in the summer of 2016.
The goat is not the only mammal that recognizes human emotions.
Dogs, domesticated since prehistory, know very well the expressions of faces. Recently, studies showed that horses could also decipher human facial expressions and remember them.
These two species “were domesticated to cooperate with men in various contexts such as hunting, protection, displacement,” the study emphasizes. The perception of human facial expressions is probably the result of an adaptation of both species to “those cooperative contexts”.
For its part, “the goats were domesticated only to provide different products for man.” The efforts of the selection dealt with size, reproduction, milk production, etc.
The team of researchers observed the behavior of twenty goats in front of images of human faces. Ruminants live in the Buttercups refuge in Kent, United Kingdom.
The experiment, which was repeated several times, with the face of a woman and then with that of a man, took place in a closed space in which the goats could move freely.
Each time, they were presented with two black and white images of the same person, one with a smiley face and the other with an angry gesture. The goats preferred to interact with the smiles.
The reaction of the goats was not influenced by the sex of the person.
On average, the goats spent 50% more time watching and interacting with the happy face image (1.4 seconds) than with the angry face (0.9 seconds), said Christian Nawroth.