Horses share somesurprisingly similar facialexpressions to humans andchimps, according to newUniversity of Sussex research.
Researchers have shown that, like humans, horses use muscles underlying various facial features – including their nostrils, lips and eyes – to alter their facial expressions in a variety of social situations. The findings suggest evolutionary parallels in different species in how the face is used for communication. The study builds on previous research showing that cues from the face are important for horses to communicate on the basis of underlying muscle movement. The Equine Facial Action Coding System, devised by the Sussex team in collaboration with researchers at the University of Portsmouth and Duquesne University, identified 17 facial movements in horses. This compares with 27 in humans, 13 in chimps and 16 in dogs.
The study’s co-lead author, doctoral researcher Jennifer Wathan, said:“Horses are predominantly visual animals, with eyesight that’s better than domestic cats and dogs, yet their use of facial expressions has been largely overlooked. What surprised us was the rich repertoire of complex facial movements in horses, and how many of them are similar to humans. “Despite the differences in face structure between horses and humans, we were able to identify some similar expressions in relation to movements of the lips and eyes. What we’ll now be looking at is how these expressions relate to emotional states.” The researchers analysed video footage of a wide range of naturally occurring horse behaviours to identify all the different movements it is possible for horses to make with their face.