Goats Like Happy Humans More Than Angry Ones

Researchers find that goats can read human emotions – and prefer positive people.

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CC BY 2.0. Martin Cathrae / Flickr

The human face can be a bit of an open book. Sure we can fake our facial expressions, but in general: Smile = happy, grimace = angry. Even our companion animals have our number – dogs, for example, are very sensitive to the emotional cues we give. But what about other animals?

According to a 2018 study led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London, it appears evident that when it comes to goats at least, the answer is yes.

Published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers explained how 20 goats reacted to images of happy and angry human facial expressions, concluding that the goats preferred to look at and interact with the positive faces.

The research was conducted at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent, where the team showed the goats pairs of unfamiliar faces of the same person showing happy and angry expressions.

The goats preferred the happy faces, which elicited greater interaction with the goats approaching them and exploring them with their snouts. The effect was amplified when the happy faces were on the right side, suggesting that goats use the left hemisphere of their brains to process positive emotion.

Human goat bond
Taken at the Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats. ChristianNawroth / Wikimedia Commons

First author Dr. Christian Nawroth, pictured above, said in a statement from the University, “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. 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.”

The study, which provides the first evidence of how goats read human emotional expressions, implies that the ability of animals to perceive human facial cues is not limited to those with a long history of domestication as companions, such as dogs and horses, notes the researchers.

goats prefer happy people
Dr. with a goat. Alan Mcelligott

Study leader Dr. Alan McElligott, pictured above, said “The study has important implications for how we interact with livestock and other species, because the abilities of animals to perceive human emotions might be widespread and not just limited to pets.”

This isn't the first look by these researchers into the inner lives of goats that we've reported on here (see: Goats are the new dogs!). In the previous study, the team found that goats have the capacity to communicate with people, just like other domesticated animals such as dogs and horses do. So is it any surprise that they can read our emotions and respond accordingly?

As McElligott said in reference to the earlier study, “If we can show that they are more intelligent, then hopefully we can bring in better guidelines for their care.” With the research showing that goats are more perceptive than most people realize, hopefully, we're one step closer to achieving that goal.

In conclusion: Baby goats playing and jumping. Because, baby goats playing and jumping.