No kidding! Goats prefer humans who look happy

Dr Christian Nawroth is one of the scientists involved ((Queen Mary University/PA) Credit: Press Association Images

Make sure you say (goats') "cheese" next time you see a goat, as they're attracted to happy humans, a new study has found.

Much like us, goats seem to be drawn to smiling faces, but don’t expect to make friends with one if you scowl at it.

Scientists showed 20 goats unfamiliar photos of the same human face looking happy or angry.

The research, conducted at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent by a team from the Queen Mary, University of London, demonstrated that the goats preferred to interact with the smiling face.

Released from a distance of four metres (13ft) they generally made straight for the happy image, exploring it curiously with their snouts.

This suggested that goats use the left hemisphere of their brains to process positive emotion, the researchers said.

A goat facing images of positive and negative expressions Credit: Queen Mary University/PA

Dr Alan McElligott, who led the research, explained that the team's findings could mean that it's not just pets which can perceive human emotions, meaning "the study has important implications for how we interact with livestock and other species".

Goats were already known to be sensitive to human body language, but the new findings show they also respond to emotional facial expressions.

Co-author Dr Christian Nawroth, a member of the Queen Mary team now based at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said: “Here we show for the first time that goats do not only distinguish between these expressions, but they also prefer to interact with happy ones.”

Dr Alan Mcelligott conducted the research at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent Credit: Queen Mary University/PA

Other studies have shown that dogs and horses also appear to recognise and remember human facial expressions displaying emotion.

Sheep are known to possess a powerful visual memory and an ability to recognise human faces from photographs.

Goats at the Buttercup Sanctuary in Boughton Monchlesea, Kent. Credit: Dr Christian Nawroth/PA

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers concluded: “These findings suggest that the ability of animals to perceive human facial cues is not limited to those with a long history of domestication as companions, and therefore may be far more widespread than previously believed.”