One day, you may stumble onto a dairy farm or into a goat yoga class, and ask yourself one of life's important questions: What's the best way to befriend a goat? As is the case with human relationships, flashing a smile is a good place to start. A new paper published in Royal Society Open Science suggests that goats not only recognize happy human facial expressions, they're also drawn to them.
For their study, a team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London recruited 20 goats, 12 males and eight females, at the Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent in the UK. The goats were released into a pen lined with black-and-white photographs of humans making happy and angry faces. The livestock appeared to be more interested in the images of smiling people, walking over to them and even touching them with their noses. Happy faces on the right side of the pen attracted the most interactions, which may indicate that goats process positive emotion with the left sides of the their brains.
We already know that some animals are really good at reading human facial cues. In a 2015 study, trained dogs were able to successfully discern between happy and angry expressions, even if they were only shown a photograph of the top half of someone's face. It was thought this ability was limited to pets, but the new goat research suggests otherwise.
The study was small, and perhaps the results would be different if the goats were not already habituated to humans, as these subjects were. But if you do cross paths with a goat in the future, offering it a smile couldn't hurt.