Goats prefer positive human emotional facial expressions

Christian Nawroth, Natalia Albuquerque, Carine Savalli, Marie-Sophie Single, Alan McElligott

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Domestication has shaped the physiology and the behaviour of animals to better adapt to human environments. Therefore, human facial expressions may be highly informative for animals domesticated for working closely with people, such as dogs and horses. However, it is not known whether other animals, and particularly those domesticated primarily for production, such as goats, are capable of perceiving human emotional cues. In this study, we investigated whether goats can distinguish human facial expressions when simultaneously shown two images of an unfamiliar human with different emotional valences (positive/happy or negative/angry). Both images were vertically attached to a wall on one side of a test arena, 1.3 m apart, and goats were released from the opposite side of the arena (distance of 4.0 m) and were free to explore and interact with the stimuli during the trials. Each of four test trials lasted 30 s. Overall, we found that goats preferred to interact first with happy faces, meaning that they are sensitive to human facial emotional cues. Goats interacted first, more often and for longer duration with positive faces when they were positioned on the right side. However, no preference was found when the positive faces were placed on the left side. We show that animals domesticated for production can discriminate human facial expressions with different emotional valences and prefer to interact with positive ones. Therefore, the impact of domestication on animal cognitive abilities may be more far-reaching than previously assumed.

© 2018The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180491
Number of pages8
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Early online date29 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Aug 2018


  • emotions, emotion perception, interspecific communication, livestock, social cognition

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