Study Shows Horses Understand and Remember Human Emotions

Researchers found the information by testing horses with photos of happy and angry human strangers

Side View Of Woman Standing By Horse On Sunflower Field
Photo: Getty

Did Mr. Ed ever speak to you? Not like a talking horse would, but you know, speak to your soul?

Well, science says that isn’t a crazy idea.

New research from the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth have found that horses can recognize human faces and remember their previous moods, reports UPI.

“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 behavior accordingly,” Karen McComb, a professor at the University of Sussex, said in a news release about the findings.

The study came across these interesting findings through a series of experiments where horses were shown photos of human faces expressing either a happy or angry mood. Later, the horses tested would be introduced to the people from the photos they were shown in person. The person would approach the horse with a neutral expression.

The researchers found that those who were photographed with a negative expression were more likely to be perceived as a threat by the horse. This was determined by the eye movements of the animals. Horses often stare at threats with their left eye, since this eye is connected to the right side of the brain, which is the side that assesses threats. The humans from the angry photographs were often looked at by the horses with their left eyes.

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“We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time any mammal has been shown to have this particular ability,” Co-lead author of the study Dr. Leanne Proops of the University of Portsmouth, said in the release.

The researchers were particularly impressed that the horses could create these threat assessments based solely on photos of people they had no prior relationship with.

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