Express Yourself: Do Horses Demonstrate Micro-Expressions? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Express Yourself: Do Horses Demonstrate Micro-Expressions?

Micro-expressions in humans are facial expressions that last only a fraction of a second; though often discreet, they can be understood easily and often show a person's true emotions. These expressions are involuntary and are hard to repress or control. 

Dr. Claude Tomberg and a team of researchers from the University of Brussels wanted to determine whether horses had micro-expressions, and if they were evident around other horses. Horses have a vast array of facial expressions that can convey a wide range of emotions. The team theorized that expressions – and therefore micro-expressions, could be used as a tool to communicate with other horses.

The scientists used 22 horses of a variety of breeds, aged 4 to 26 for their study. The horses were videoed while they stood in a grooming stall with a familiar human. The horse could see but not reach a carrot. 

The footage was analyzed frame by frame using the Equine Facial Action Coding System (EquiFACS) to see if the horses showed any micro-expressions that lasted for under a half a second. 

The team found that all of the horses had micro-expressions and that two-thirds of all the horse's expressions were micro-expressions. Interestingly, the horses showed less micro-expressions when in the presence of the handler versus when they were alone. 

The horses exhibited “fixed attention” patterns, where they stood still, but looked at and pointed their ears toward the handler. The horses did not exhibit signs of stress or pain. 

The focus of a horse on the experimenter and the reduction in micro-expressions supports the idea that horses are sensitive to social context. 

The researchers conclude that a horse's micro-expressions might provide information on the true state of the horse, including pain, which could increase equine welfare.  

Read more at HorseTalk. 

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