Horses are able to read human emotions by collating the tone of voice and facial expressions, new research has found.
Scientists adapted a technique used to assess mental development in infants and showed the horses images of happy or angry human faces.
At the same time the animals listened to recordings of either praising or scolding voices.
On some occasions during the test the images matched the sound and at other times it did not.
The results, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that horses reacted twice as fast when they were surprised that the voice and face were at odds with each other.
The animals' response to an "expectancy violation" suggests that they are able to integrate facial expressions and vocal tones to perceive human emotions, the scientists said.
Lead researcher Dr Ayaka Takimoto, from Hokkaido University in Japan, said: "Our study could contribute to the understanding of how humans and companion animals send and receive emotional signals to deepen our relationships, which could help establish a better relationship that emphasises the wellbeing of animals."
In 2015, Sussex researchers compiled a “dictionary” of horse facial expressions. They said the animals had a “rich repertoire of complex facial movements”, many of which were similar to those of humans.
Agencies contributed to this report
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