Goats Prefer People Who Smile, New Study Shows

A study by the Royal Society finds that goats can distinguish human emotions and prefer to see smiling faces. The findings conclude that the ability to perceive human facial cues is not limited to animals with a long history of domestication as companion animals and therefore may be far more widespread than previously believed.

At Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in the U.K., scientists presented about 20 goats with images of happy and angry expressions on the same human face set up on either side of a pen. The scientists timed the goats’ interactions with each photograph.

The goats interacted first, more often, and for longer periods with positive faces, the study found. It also revealed a general side bias; goats were more likely to interact longer with images on the right side of the pen than on the left.

This behavior suggests to the researchers that the left brain hemisphere has “a differential engagement … for approaching happy faces. This theory agrees with a major hypothesis on “asymmetric hemispheric processing of emotional information in the mammalian brain. In short, there is a right-hemisphere dominance for processing negative emotions, such as fear and aggression, and a left-hemisphere dominance for processing positive emotions.

While studies have found that chickens can recognize more than 100 human faces and that dogs and horses, specifically domesticated for relationships with humans, understand facial expressions, this is the first study to indicate that domesticated farmed animals such as goats can read human facial cues, according to Buzzfeed.

Like many farmed animals, goats are intelligent and sensitive beings. In fact, female goats, who are often exploited for milk, are patient, highly nurturing mothers. They have even been known to foster orphaned or rejected lambs, calves, and foals.

But at factory farms, mother goats and kids are torn apart, often only hours after birth. Female kids are raised to replace older goats, while the males are either slaughtered immediately or raised for meat. Virtually all baby goats suffer painful mutilations, such as castration and disbudding.

Castration of male goats usually involves placing a tight rubber ring around the base of the testicles so the blood supply is cut off. The testes slowly shrivel and die. And at many goat farms, both male and female goats are disbudded. Their nerve-filled horn buds are destroyed with a searing cylindrical iron pressed into the bud and surrounding area upwards of three times. The goats scream throughout this horrific process. Both procedures are routinely done without any painkillers before or after.

At factory farms, sheep and goats are confined in small pastures and crowded feedlots, and at the end of their horrible lives, they are subjected to a slaughter similar to that of cows. According to the Food Empowerment Project, sheep and goats are stunned with a captive-bolt pistol but often regain consciousness due to improper stunning. This means that many of these animals—who are shackled by a hind leg, raised off the ground, and cut open from the stomach to the throat—are aware of and can feel everything happening to them. About a million goats are slaughtered in the U.S. each year.

Thankfully, we don’t need to eat any animals to be healthy and show off our smiles. By ditching all animal products, you can end your support of industries that routinely—and legally—abuse animals. Get tips, tricks, vegan recipes, and more by downloading our FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide today.