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Goats can distinguish happy faces from angry ones, new research says

A new study shows that goats prefer a happy human face instead of an angry one, which suggests such socio-cognitive ability is more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously assumed.

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The research, conducted by scientists from the British Royal Society to ascertain goats’ ability to understand human social cues, used 35 goats for the study, according a report published in the Open Science journal.

The researchers showed the goats a pair of photos of the same person, one of them looking happy, and the other angry.

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The goats overall showed a strong preference for the positive face, wanting to interact with the happy face photo first and tending to spend more time with it, compared to the angry face photo.

The authors concluded that “goats can distinguish between happy and angry images of the same person, indicating that they can visually differentiate human faces conveying different emotional valences.”

Scientists have already known that dogs and horses can perceive human facial communication cues and believe the reason is that both the animals were domesticated specifically as companion animals.

The new study is the first to indicate that farm animals such as goats, which have not been bred specifically to interact with humans, can also understand human expressions.

The result could have implications for animal welfare because many livestock animals are probably more sentient and smarter than previously thought.

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