Baba, C., Kawai, M., Takimoto-Inose, A. 2019. Are horses (Equus caballus) sensitive to human emotional cues? Animals 9(9), 630.
Emotions are important for social animals because animals' emotions function as beneficial cues to identify valuable resources such as food or to avoid danger by providing environmental information. Emotions also enable animals to predict individuals' behavior and determine how to behave in a specific context. Recently, several studies have reported that dogs are highly sensitive to not only conspecific but also human emotional cues. These studies suggest that domestication may have affected such sensitivity. However, there are still few studies that examine whether other domesticated animals, in addition to dogs, exhibit sensitivity to human emotional cues. In this study, we used a gaze-following task to investigate whether horses (Equus caballus) are sensitive to human emotional cues (happy, neutral, disgust) and if they adjust their behavior accordingly. In the study, the experimenter suddenly turned her head to either right or left and showed emotional cues. The results revealed that horses significantly decreased the frequency with which they followed the experimenter's gaze and the total looking time during the gaze-emotional cue presentation in the Disgust condition compared to the Neutral condition. These results suggest the possibility that horses are sensitive to human emotional cues and behave on the basis of the meaning implied by negative human emotional cues.