Goats Like to See Us Smile, According to Science

Maybe they're not just after our shrubbery.
August 29, 2018, 9:01pm
Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images.

Goats have been pretty busy this summer, breaking free from their pen prisons to climb on top of yogis, terrorize a suburban neighborhood in Idaho, try riding the New York City subway, and just generally hang out with us boring-ass humans. But it turns out that our four-legged farm friends might not just be after our clothes or our shrubbery—a new study out of the UK found that they're actually pretty interested in seeing people smile.

In a new study from the Royal Society, researchers rounded up 35 goats from an animal sanctuary, all of whom had spent a bit of time with humans, and split them into groups. Each of the groups was then shown an image of a happy or angry human face (both male and female) on opposite sides of their pen. Researchers found that goats tended to go to the happy face first, and overall, spent more time around the happier expressions. They concluded that "goats preferred to interact first with happy faces, meaning that they are sensitive to human facial emotional cues."

This is the first study to test whether farm animals not bred specifically for human companionship can discriminate between human emotional valence. It's been fairly established that horses and dogs can recognize human expressions—and dogs can even understand what you're actually saying, so telling them they're going to the vet in a happy tone won't work. But now it looks like we can add goats to the list of animals who can at least sort of understand us.

All of the goats who participated in the study live at the Buttercups Sanctuary in Kent, England, and thanks to the website's blessed "Goaty Gallery," we can enjoy all of their smiling faces as much as they seem to enjoy ours.

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