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Smile! Goats prefer happy people, study finds

No kidding! Scientists determine goats prefer grins to grimaces.

goatsmile

Alan McElligott poses with a smile and a friendly goat.

Alan McElligott

The next time you encounter a goat, be sure to smile at it. 

We all know dogs are good at reading our moods, but it turns out goats may have a talent for telling if humans are happy or not, too. 

An international team of researchers led by Alan McElligott of London's Queen Mary University showed images of happy and angry human faces to goats and monitored their responses. They were looking to understand if animals that have been domesticated for production rather than companionship could distinguish between different human facial expressions.

The researchers published their findings this week in the Royal Society Open Science journal. "Overall, we found that goats preferred to interact first with happy faces, meaning that they are sensitive to human facial emotional cues," the study reads.  

When shown two images of an unfamiliar person, one with a happy face and one with an angry face, the goats approached and explored the happy faces with their snouts. 

The university posted a video of one of the goat trials on Twitter showing a goat named Bernard making a beeline toward a photo of a smiling woman. 

"Our results open new paths to understanding the emotional lives of all domestic animals," said study co-author Natalia Albuquerque of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The study had a small sample size of 20 goats, so it's possible you may run into a grumpy goat that could care less if you're grinning, but the research opens up an interesting new set of questions about how animals perceive human emotional expressions. 

"The study has important implications for how we interact with livestock and other species, because the abilities of animals to perceive human emotions might be widespread and not just limited to pets," said McElligott, who is now at the University of Roehampton.