Goats can distinguish human facial expressions and they would rather interact with friendly faces, scientists have discovered in a new study.

A team of researchers conducted the experiment involving 20 goats from the Buttercups Sanctuary in Kent. The findings were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday. Aug. 29.

Friendly Goats

During the study, the researchers observed how goats react to facial expressions of humans. They showed a pair of black and white photos of the same person expressing either happiness or anger. The model in the photo did not interact with the goats before or during the experiment.

Surprisingly, the goats made a beeline for the photos with friendly facial expressions. According to the study, the goats looked at the image with the smiling model, approached it, and physically interacted with it by touching the photo with their snouts.

However, the effect was only significant when the smiling photo is placed on the right side of the arena. When the friendly face was placed on the left-hand side, goats showed no preference.

Scientists believe that this is because the goats use the left hemisphere of their brains to process positive emotions.

"We already knew that goats are very attuned to human body language, but we did not know how they react to different human emotional expressions, such as anger and happiness," explained Christian Nawroth, from Queen Mary University of London and author of the study. "Here, we show for the first time that goats do not only distinguish between these expressions, but they also prefer to interact with happy ones."

Several studies have proven that goats are pretty smart animals. They can recognize how their friends look and sound like and can communicate through their gaze, noted Gizmodo.

Significance Of The Study

Dogs and horses have already shown complex abilities to understand human emotions. However, there is no evidence prior to this study that other animals that had no history as human companions can read facial cues from people.

This new study from Queen Mary University proves that goats, and possibly other domesticated animals, can read human facial cues. It also gives scientists a clue on how animals process human expressions.

"Our results open new paths to understanding the emotional lives of all domestic animal," said co-author Natalia Albuquerque from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The study can also change people's perception of animals domesticated for food productions.

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