A recent study finds that horses remember people they first saw on a photo when they meet them simply because of the person's facial expression.
Previous studies have already found that horses can identify and read different emotions through humans' facial expressions. The recent study by the animal experts at the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth, however, discovers that horses can remember facial expressions.
The animals respond differently to people they saw on photos when they finally meet them in person depending on whether a person is shown with an angry or happy face on the pictures. For example, someone with an angry face on the photo will be viewed as a threat by the horses when they eventually meet the said person.
The Bond Of Horses With Humans
Before arriving at this conclusion, the research team conducted an experiment wherein domestic horses were shown photographs of people. Some of the people were angry while some were happy.
Several hours after the animals' encounter with the photos, the people showed themselves one by one to the animals. It is important to note that during the personal encounters, the humans have neutral expressions on their faces. The humans also did not know whether the animals were shown their happy or angry faces on the snapshots.
The animals' brief interactions with the photos were enough for them to identify whether the person whom they finally saw in the flesh is a threat or a friend. The difference in their gaze was particularly notable when they look at the person who was angry at the photo in spite of seeing them with neutral faces later on.
Furthermore, the gazes that thee horses gave these people who they have seen first on photos were also different from the kind of gaze the horses gave to other people.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology. The lead authors of the study are Karen McComb, a professor at the University of Sussex and Leanne Proops, a doctor from the University of Portsmouth.
Human Facial Expressions
In 2016, Professor McComb and a group of psychologists discovered that horses can actually distinguish between angry and happy facial expressions. In this study, 28 horses were shown photos of both happy and angry people. The animals' behavior was particularly striking when looking at the photo of an angry person and they tend to use their left eyes more and their heart rates also increase faster.
Professor McComb said that their 2018 study further revealed that horses, essentially, have a memory for emotion.