Friday, February 12, 2016

Why Are Scientists Always the Last Ones to Catch On?

Horses Can Read Human Facial Expressions, New Study Suggests

If you've got a long face, a horse might notice.

The Huffington Post  02/10/2016

Horses are able to distinguish between at least some human facial expressions, suggests a new study by researchers at the U.K.’s University of Sussex.

In the study, published in the February edition of Biology Letters, researchers examined the reactions of 28 horses, from five different stables, to large photos that showed a man either smiling or making an angry expression. 

Portra Images via Getty Images Horses' heart rates increased at a faster rate when they viewed photos of an angry facial expression. 

I know which one I'd rather have sitting on my back...

"We found that when we presented the photograph to the horses, they really paid attention and engaged with the facial expression images, partly because this is quite a novel situation for them," lead researcher Amy Smith told The Huffington Post in an email. "Responses to real-life humans are likely to be more subtle, because they are more accustomed to these interactions."

When the horses viewed the angry images, their heart rates sped up more quickly, researchers found. 

Horses were also more likely to turn and look at the angry faces with their left eye -- a reaction that the researchers wrote is “generally associated with stimulus perceived as negative.” The theory behind this "left gaze bias" is that the brain's right hemisphere is specially equipped to help process negative emotions.

"It's interesting to note that the horses had a strong reaction to the negative expressions but less so to the positive,” Smith said in a news release. “This may be because it is particularly important for animals to recognize threats in their environment. In this context, recognizing angry faces may act as a warning system, allowing horses to anticipate negative human behavior such as rough handling."

However, the horses were also being shown photos of strangers, and researchers noted in the paper that the animals may have had stronger responses to the happy faces if they were familiar with the people pictured. Dogs, for instance, have better human facial expression recognition when viewing their owners, or people of the same gender as their owners, the paper notes. 

The new study builds on previous work by some of the same researchers, who published a paper last year documenting how horses communicate their own emotions through facial expressions.

"Emotional awareness is likely to be very important in highly social species like horses -- and ongoing research in our lab is examining the relationship between a range of emotional skills and social behavior," Smith told HuffPost.

So what about this “left gaze bias”?

Thursday, De. 10, 2009
What is Left Gaze Bias? How Does It Relate to Dogs?  By Linda Cole

A recent study by a team of researchers at the University of Lincoln in England have found dogs can see our emotions more than what was once thought. In fact, dogs are unique among the animal kingdom as the only ones who can see and understand our emotions by looking at our face. Dogs have a left gaze bias and can see our emotions.

When we meet another person, our gaze normally scans the right side of their face, as long as they are in an upright position. The left side of our brain controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the left side. It’s the left hemisphere of the brain that controls how we show emotion which is displayed on the right side of our face. The left side of our face shows almost no emotion because the right side of the brain has a different function and doesn’t control our emotional state of mind. Looking at the right side of the face is called left gaze bias, or left face bias.

Our tendency is to look on the right side of the face for hints as to how someone is feeling or what their mood may be. We understand how someone is feeling by detecting clues on the right side of their face. We can usually tell right away if they are happy, sad or angry. It’s something we all do subconsciously. Somewhere along the line in our evolution, we began a left gaze bias to help us determine how another person is feeling.

The study done in the UK has determined that dogs can see our emotions the same way. Left gaze bias is used by humans only when we are looking at another person. It doesn’t hold true if we look at a painting, a pile of dirty laundry, a brand new car or other animals. Dogs are the same as we are in this bias, and so far the only animal that’s been found capable of actually seeing our emotions like other people can.

The researchers, lead by Dr. Kun Guo, studied 17 dogs. Each dog was shown photos of inanimate objects, monkey faces, human faces and dog faces while being videotaped. The dog’s eye and head movements were the focus of the tape. When the researchers watched the tape, they discovered all of the dogs had eye and head movements toward the left side of the face (left gaze bias) only when shown human faces. They concluded that dogs have a strong left gaze bias when looking at human faces.

It’s believed dogs evolved and developed left gaze bias and can see our emotions because of their long association with us. Dogs learned centuries ago to read our emotions by looking at the left side of our face. The interesting thing about this study is it looks like dogs are one up on us. When the researchers flipped the pictures of human faces over, the dogs were able to distinguish the difference and still showed the same strong left gaze bias. When we look at an upside down face, we lose our left gaze bias altogether.

If you have a dog in the house, try it yourself. Watch your dog’s eyes when they look at you. It may be a subtle eye shift to the right, but it is true; they do scan the right side of your face first. So the next time you scold your dog or you are sad because you didn’t get that promotion at work, your dog probably does know you are angry or sad even though he won’t understand why.

When you factor in a dog’s knowledge of body language along with a left gaze bias, it’s possible your dog understands more than you know. When he tucks his tail between his legs before you start yelling at him for tearing up the pillows on the couch, he really does know he is in trouble. Forget the yelling and just let it go. The pillows can be replaced but your best friend needs all the love you can give him because he will be there when no one else is, and can tell when you are feeling angry, sad or happy.

No comments: