How do horses read human emotional cues?

June 21, 2018, Hokkaido University
Several horses on a farm visited by Dr. Ayaka Takimoto. Credit: Ayaka Takimoto.

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that horses integrate human facial expressions and voice tones to perceive human emotion, regardless of whether the person is familiar or not.

Recent studies showed possesses high communication capabilities, and can read the emotions of their peers through facial expressions and contact calls, or whinnies. Horses have long been used as a working animal and also as a companion animal in sports and leisure, establishing close relationships with humans, just like dogs do with people.

Dogs are known to relate human facial expressions and voices to perceive human emotions, but little has been known as to whether horses can do the same.

In the present study to be published in Scientific Reports, Associate Professor Ayaka Takimoto of Hokkaido University, graduate student Kosuke Nakamura of The University of Tokyo, and former Professor Toshikazu Hasegawa of The University of Tokyo, used the expectancy violation method to investigate whether horses cross-modally perceive by integrating facial and tone. They also tested whether the familiarity between the horse and the person affected the horse's perception.

Horses are shown an angry or happy facial expression on the screen followed by a praising or scolding tone of voice during the test. Horses responded differently in a congruent and incongruent condition. Credit: Kosuke Nakamura.

The expectancy violation method has been used to study infant cognitive development. Horses were shown a picture of a happy facial expression or an angry facial expression on a screen, and they then heard a pre-recorded human voice—praising or scolding—from a speaker behind the screen. Horses received both the congruent condition, in which the emotional values of facial expression and voice tone were matched, and the incongruent condition, in which they were not.

Results of the experiment showed that horses responded to voices 1.6 to 2.0 times faster in the incongruent condition than in the congruent condition regardless of familiarity of the person. In addition, the horses looked to the speaker 1.4 times longer in the incongruent condition than in the congruent condition when the person was familiar. These results suggest that horses integrate human facial expressions and voice tones to perceive human emotions, therefore an expectancy violation occurred when horses heard a human voice whose emotional value was not congruent with the human facial expression.

"Our study could contribute to the understanding of how humans and companion animals send and receive signals to deepen our relationships, which could help establish a better relationship that emphasizes the well-being of ," says Ayaka Takimoto of Hokkaido University.

Explore further: Study finds horses remember facial expressions of people they've seen before

More information: Kosuke Nakamura et al, Cross-modal perception of human emotion in domestic horses (Equus caballus), Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-26892-6

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3 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2018
Just about any animal species that has been domesticated by Humans has developed this ability, especially those we don't simply kill for food in their first couple of years of life. How could they not develop it, when their survival is enhanced by the ability? Humans and their domestic animals are co-dependent.
1 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2018
SHAMEFUL RESEARCH ACTIVITY. They WASTED Centuries of time recording the features of animals, Coming up with new species names. If continued, Waste of time. Waste of money. No use. Rather, 'WORK' on Biochemistry & Genetics of them should excel, I mean, Take 1-celled Zygote of 2 funny looking birds, fish etc., move genes in between them and show a Visual Proof. Biochemists should take over and check for changes. keep on creating viable hybrids between various animals. Somewhere along the line, we may gain more knowledge to apply to humans...Not for creating hybrids, of course. That is FOOLISHNESS. At least between Non-human primates. WE SHOULD DEMAND CHANGES, NOT YIELD TO or Just Marvel at NATURE !
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2018
be, careful what you wish for. Some cold-blooded types would take your rant as you giving permission to use YOU as a lab test subject.

You are bravely volunteering ain'tcha? Cause if you are volunteering other people? Without their consent? That just plain moral cowardice on your part....
not rated yet Jun 24, 2018

World's Ugliest Dog ,Zsa Zsa. For example, To Fix Teeth & Tongue of its Progeny; Which IDIOT Destined it to suffer like this ?
not rated yet Jun 24, 2018
Horse 1 -- Hey why the long face?
Horse 2 -- I just read that human's emotions.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2018
E.S.P. Equine Sensory Perception. Obviously.
not rated yet Jun 24, 2018
"How do horses read human emotional cues?"

-I was going to say reins, spurs, crop.
domesticated by Humans has developed this ability
Not passively developed, actively selected for the propensity to do what we want. Similar selection process for the human domesticated animal.
Jun 24, 2018
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Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2018
My cat reads my face. I try to send consistent signals as best I can and he seems to get most of them. He imitates my gestures, which I take for an attempt to return a gesture, and that seems pretty sophisticate. Horses have much bigger brains, so I expect more complex behavior from them.

I have often wished I had the money to keep horses, and in general I like them. They do seem to read me well; when I bring apple slices, even in a ziplock, they know. Seems to be situational, unless you believe in magic. And I don't. Then again they come too for grooming, a primate instinct I derive pleasure from. So do they, as far as I can tell. If you have never scratched a horse's poll and seen them flop their ears and shake their lower lips in pleasure, you have missed one of the great experiences in animal companionship.
Jun 24, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Jun 24, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2018
I have never seen a fish do this, and it's known that contact with a fish can hurt their integument and cause ichthyosis. On the other hand I don't deny they're capable of physical reactions that are beneficial; I've seen oscars that would respond to the presence of a favored person, particularly their food provider, so I don't deny it either. Many people deride this as a simple feeding response, but I have seen that feeding even minimal food, though specially attractive (horses with apples, dogs with jerkey, cats with animal protein treats) is taken well as enrichment by them. Overall I see these interactions as beneficial both for the animal and for the human in these encounters. It is respectful and a language the animal understands unambiguously.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2018
The mare in the picture protects her colt. She shows her teeth in threat to ensure that he is safe. He looks on curiously as many mammalian neonates do. Tell them with treats, voice, and gesticulations that they are welcome and valued and they will both develop trust quite quickly.

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