In a new study, researchers have confirmed that horses understand human emotions; that “why the long face?” could simply be response to your frown.
Horses use their left eye to read human emotions
Horses have always been able to get a fairly good read on human emotions but in the journal Biology Letters, that was published today, researchers from The University of Sussex in the United Kingdom have shown that it’s the use of the horse’s left eye to study the human face that is responsible for this.
When horses were shown pictures of angry men, they used their left eye which is processed by the right side of the brain and became fearful and causes their heart rates to increase.
“The preferential use of the left eye when viewing a threatening situation is an evolutionary adaptation,” wrote Karen McComb and first author Amy Smith “Information from the left eye is processed in the right brain hemisphere, parts of which are specialized for handling threatening information.”
“What’s really interesting about this research is that it shows horses have the ability to read emotions across the species barrier,” explained Amy Smith, a doctoral student who co-led the research.
“We have known for a long time that horses are a socially sophisticated species, but this is the first time we have seen that they can distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions.”
Not just for horses
The finding is not dissimilar to work done with dogs in a 2012 study that was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Just like in humans and dogs, horses seem to disproportionately use their left eyes to study faces. Human body language is easier for a hours to read, but this study simply used pictures to calm down or wind up the animals.
“It may be that the channels of communication between species are more flexible and widespread than we thought,” wrote the authors suggesting that this phenomenon may not be limited to equines, dogs and humans.
Make sure you’re smiling when around horses is the lesson to be learned here especially if you intend to mount one and remain upright in the saddle.