New research suggests that not only can horses interpret human facial expressions, they also remember them.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth, examined horses presented with photos of people exhibiting either angry or happy emotions. Several hours later, the horses were introduced to the actual person represented in the photograph, this time wearing a neutral expression. The researchers sought to determine whether or not the horses would interpret and use the photograph to form biases about the humans.
As it turns out, they did.
Using results from past research which indicated that a horse’s gaze can be used to determine how it feels about the subject it looks at, researchers determined that horses presented with the angry photograph perceived the neutral human more negatively than horses who had been viewed the happy photograph.
“What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day — and, crucially, that they adapt their behaviour accordingly. Essentially horses have a memory for emotion.”
— Karen McComb, Professor, Animal Behavior & Cognition, University of Sussex
For more information about the findings, read the full study in Current Biology.