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Horse facial expressions similar to human ones?

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Further to New Scientist asks What if we could talk to animals?

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG No one with horse sense should be surprised by this:

Horses share some surprisingly similar facial expressions to humans and chimps, according to new University of Sussex research.

Mammal communication 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, published in PLOS ONE today (05 August 2015), 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, by developing an objective coding system to identify different individual facial expressions on the basis of underlying muscle movement.

The Equine Facial Action Coding System (EquiFACS), as devised by the Sussex team in collaboration with researchers at the University of Portsmouth and Duquesne University, identified 17 “action units” (discrete facial movements) in horses. This compares with 27 in humans, 13 in chimps and 16 in dogs. More.

Note that horses and dogs have more in common with humans in this area than chimps do. Hmmm. No wonder “creationists” are increasingly less “terrified.”

Note: If facial expression is the only criterion, much data will be lost. Dogs, horses (and cats) communicate via tail movements as well. Humans (and other animals) can read these messages. Chimpanzees don’t have tails, as humans do not, so there is nothing to read. Thus, the chimpanzee might be at an even greater disadvantage in communicating with humans—relative to dogs and horses—than facial data show.

Also, it’s possible that convergent evolution is involved. Do wolves and wild horses show the same characteristics as dogs and domestic horses?

Here’s the abstract:

Although previous studies of horses have investigated their facial expressions in specific contexts, e.g. pain, until now there has been no methodology available that documents all the possible facial movements of the horse and provides a way to record all potential facial configurations. This is essential for an objective description of horse facial expressions across a range of contexts that reflect different emotional states. Facial Action Coding Systems (FACS) provide a systematic methodology of identifying and coding facial expressions on the basis of underlying facial musculature and muscle movement. FACS are anatomically based and document all possible facial movements rather than a configuration of movements associated with a particular situation. Consequently, FACS can be applied as a tool for a wide range of research questions. We developed FACS for the domestic horse (Equus caballus) through anatomical investigation of the underlying musculature and subsequent analysis of naturally occurring behaviour captured on high quality video. Discrete facial movements were identified and described in terms of the underlying muscle contractions, in correspondence with previous FACS systems. The reliability of others to be able to learn this system (EquiFACS) and consistently code behavioural sequences was high—and this included people with no previous experience of horses. A wide range of facial movements were identified, including many that are also seen in primates and other domestic animals (dogs and cats). EquiFACS provides a method that can now be used to document the facial movements associated with different social contexts and thus to address questions relevant to understanding social cognition and comparative psychology, as well as informing current veterinary and animal welfare practices. Open access – ‘EquiFACS: The equine Facial Action Coding System by Jen Wathan, Anne Burrows, Bridget M Waller and Karen McComb is published in PLOS ONE on 05 August 2015 http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0131738.

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20 Replies to “Horse facial expressions similar to human ones?

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    Note: If facial expression is the only criterion, much data will be lost. Dogs, horses (and cats) communicate via tail movements as well. Humans (and other animals) can read these messages. Chimpanzees don’t have tails, as humans do not, so there is nothing to read. Thus, the chimpanzee might be at an even greater disadvantage in communicating with humans—relative to dogs and horses—than facial data show.

    Given that humans can communicate with other animals, with which species is our ability to communicate most extensive? (tail or not 🙂 )

    My guess is that it’s chimpanzees/bonobos. Is there any other individual animal whose ability to communicate with humans surpasses that of Kanzi?

    Secondarily, are there any other animals, of the same species or not, which communicate in a more sophisticated fashion that Kanzi and his human “associates”?

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    OTOH, I could be wrong.

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    Yes DaveS, you could be wrong. Human trained chimps & bonobos pale in comparison to human trained dogs.

    Btw, how does Kanzi pass the training to offspring? Guided or unguided? Maybe Kanzi mutated a language gene.

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    ppolish,

    Yes DaveS, you could be wrong. Human trained chimps & bonobos pale in comparison to human trained dogs.

    Maybe so, but has a rigorous comparison been done which demonstrates this?

    Btw, how does Kanzi pass the training to offspring? Guided or unguided? Maybe Kanzi mutated a language gene.

    I don’t know. I’ve seen the claim that Kanzi is unique in that he was the first bonobo/chimp to pick up the use of lexigrams without being trained by a human (by observing other trained apes).

  5. 5
    ppolish says:

    Human designed & drawn lexigrams. Bonobos have been around for a million years, DaveS. Seen any claims of evidence for bonobo drawn lexigrams out in the “wild”. Bees are smarter. Birds too. Plenty of studies out there, some not tainted by the primate lobby:)

  6. 6
    daveS says:

    ppolish,

    Human designed & drawn lexigrams. Bonobos have been around for a million years, DaveS. Seen any claims of evidence for bonobo drawn lexigrams out in the “wild”.

    No, but how is that relevant? Let’s say that an alien race landed on earth and attempted to communicate with humans, chimps, and dogs using some mode foreign to us. I would assume humans would have the best shot at learning this new mode of communication because of our intelligence.

    Bees are smarter. Birds too. Plenty of studies out there, some not tainted by the primate lobby:)

    I would definitely be interested in seeing studies showing that bees are smarter than bonobos!

    I do concede, BTW, that there is a lot of hype around human/ape communication, and a lot of their research looks pretty flaky. I also located a study or two about training dogs to use lexigrams, but it doesn’t look as impressive as Kanzi’s.

  7. 7
    anthropic says:

    dS “I’ve seen the claim that Kanzi is unique in that he was the first bonobo/chimp to pick up the use of lexigrams without being trained by a human (by observing other trained apes).”

    You mean Kanzi aped its betters?
    (couldn’t resist, sorry!)

    On a more serious note, horses use their ears extensively to communicate (my daughter has owned & ridden horses for many years so I’ve had a learn a little along the way). Humans don’t. Big diff.

    As for man’s best friend, dogs are the only animal I’ve heard of that does what human beings do when speaking with another human, focusing on the right eye.

  8. 8
    ppolish says:

    Is a bonobo as smart as a sat nav? Nope.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z2qx6sg

    Bees build complex living structures using physical laws. Bonobos sleep outside on the ground.

  9. 9
    anthropic says:

    ppolish Bees are smarter. Birds too. Plenty of studies out there, some not tainted by the primate lobby:)

    daveS I would definitely be interested in seeing studies showing that bees are smarter than bonobos!
    —————————————————-

    I’m guessing polish is referring to the ability of bees to solve the Travelling Salesman problem for literally hundreds of flowers on the fly, something that even supercomputers take days to do via brute force calculations. This calls for a very high degree of intelligence from … somewhere. Like DS, I am skeptical of the claim that the buzzing busy bee’s brain’s brilliance is behind this behavior. (A little alliteration is fun; let’s see Kanzi do THAT!)

  10. 10
    daveS says:

    anthropic,

    I’m guessing polish is referring to the ability of bees to solve the Travelling Salesman problem for literally hundreds of flowers on the fly, something that even supercomputers take days to do via brute force calculations. This calls for a very high degree of intelligence from … somewhere. Like DS, I am skeptical of the claim that the buzzing busy bee’s brain’s brilliance is behind this behavior. (A little alliteration is fun; let’s see Kanzi do THAT!)

    Thanks, it looks like your guess was correct. While very interesting, this paper states:

    How, then, did the bees optimise their routes? Based on our detailed analysis of bee movement patterns, we implemented a simple iterative improvement heuristic, which, when applied to our experimental situation, matched the behaviour of real bees exceptionally well. The proposed heuristic demonstrates that stable efficient routing solutions can emerge relatively rapidly (in fewer than 20 bouts in our study) with only little computational demand.

    which seems to indicate that what the bees are doing is not really comparable to finding an exact solution to the traveling salesman problem using supercomputers.

  11. 11
    daveS says:

    ppolish,

    Bees build complex living structures using physical laws. Bonobos sleep outside on the ground.

    Until relatively recently, some humans also slept outside on the ground. Is there something wrong with that?

  12. 12
    ppolish says:

    Humans have gone from sleeping on the ground to building luxury condos relatively quickly. Amazingly quickly. Clothing invented and improved amazingly quickly too.

    Bonobos have been sleeping on the ground for a million plus years. Can’t compare bonobo to human.

    Bees pick a Queen. Build her special housing.
    Does Queen Bonobo sleep on special dirt?

  13. 13
    daveS says:

    ppolish,

    Bonobos have been sleeping on the ground for a million plus years. Can’t compare bonobo to human.

    You can obviously compare them. It’s just as obvious that bonobos don’t share our ability to construct homes and cities, despite the fact that humans slept outside on the ground for thousands of years while bees were building their living structures.

    Bees pick a Queen. Build her special housing.
    Does Queen Bonobo sleep on special dirt?

    Mmmkay.

  14. 14
    anthropic says:

    DS 10

    Thanks for the citation, Dave. Interesting research!

    From the summary:

    “Using computer simulations, we show that the level
    of optimisation performance shown by bees can be
    replicated by a simple learning algorithm that could be
    implemented in a bee brain. We postulate that this
    mechanism allows bumblebees to optimise their foraging
    routes in more complex natural conditions, where the
    number and productivity of flowers vary.”
    —————————————————-

    Note that phrase: …”a simple learning algorithm that could be implemented in a bee brain.”

    Where do algorithms come from in our experience?
    What or who “implemented” this into a bee brain?

  15. 15
    daveS says:

    anthropic,

    Note that phrase: …”a simple learning algorithm that could be implemented in a bee brain.”

    Where do algorithms come from in our experience?
    What or who “implemented” this into a bee brain?

    Good questions. Human-designed algorithms are created by humans, obviously. I assume there is research underway on the origin of these algorithms in insects?

  16. 16
    ppolish says:

    Are bee algorithms intelligently designed like human algorithms? Yep.

  17. 17
    anthropic says:

    pp 16 All algorithms come from intelligence. The bee uses an algorithm. Therefore either the bee’s own native intellect figured it out, or another intellect is responsible for implementing it in the bee.

    Love honey & all, but I’m betting against the native brilliance of the bee.

  18. 18
    Robert Byers says:

    Good thread just because interesting. I didn’t know that and would of thought otherwise. yet indeed horses being so big they can’t use body movement like apes. so they must use the face. that makes sense.
    Horses and apes are dumb and have little to say. We use body and face anmd a great deal because we are so smart. Its a curve if you will.

    horse facial muscle uses are not evolved but simply, like us, the obvious reaction.
    All our facial looks are based on a hair trigger muscle reaction to our thoughts. Thats why we can’t keep a poker face. hair trigger.
    Since male and female horse faces are the same we know there is no selection on that. !!!
    Juat recently I was around racing horses. They lost my money. I should of looked at their faces closer for a clue.

  19. 19
    anthropic says:

    Horses are amazing critters, that’s for sure. But when it comes to betting on them, I’m a neighsayer.

  20. 20
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note: Here is a fascinating discussion on the amazing design of honey bees.
    Dr. Kendall starts around the 13:00 minute mark of his talk and then continues on with amazing fact after amazing fact about honey bees for the rest of his talk:

    Thomas Kindell – Amazing Design of Honey Bees – video (13:00 minute mark)
    https://youtu.be/OKuhx8dALnY?t=797

    Here is a cool animation showing some of the amazing design of a Honey Bee:

    Evolution vs. The Honey Bee – an Architectural Marvel – 4:00 minute mark – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=k0U-xASyM2g#t=240

    A few more notes on honey bees:

    SECRETS OF BEES
    Excerpt: The scrapings are caught in a comb with nine rows of bristle. The bee doubles up its legs. A huge rake passes through the rows of bristles, pulling the pollen into a press made by the knee joint. When the bee bends its knee, the jaws of the press open; when it straightens its leg, the jaws close, and the pollen is pressed and pushed up into the pollen basket. The pollen basket is a shallow trough in the middle of the hind leg, located just where it widens like the blade of a paddle. To hold the load securely in place, there are many curving hairs around the edges. They serve to hold the bee’s bulging load of pollen securely in place.,,,
    Freight planes carry a payload of about 25 percent of their weight. A bee can carry almost 100 per cent.
    http://beehive.org.nz/stories/bee-secrets

    Finding: Bees Solve The Traveling Salesman Problem – October 2010
    Excerpt: It is a classic problem in the field of computer science: In what order should a salesman visit his prospects? The traveling salesman problem may appear simple but it has engaged some of the greatest mathematical minds and today engages some of the fastest computers. This makes new findings, that bees routinely solve the problem before pollinating flowers, all the more remarkable.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....n-problem/

    Bumblebees Find and Distinguish Electric Signals from Flowers – Feb. 21, 2013
    Excerpt: The research shows for the first time that pollinators such as bumblebees are able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers. Flowers often produce bright colours, patterns and enticing fragrances to attract their pollinators.,,
    ,, flowers also have their equivalent of a neon sign — patterns of electrical signals that can communicate information to the insect pollinator. These electrical signals can work in concert with the flower’s other attractive signals and enhance floral advertising power.
    Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields. On their side, bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. No spark is produced as a charged bee approaches a charged flower, but a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information.
    By placing electrodes in the stems of petunias, the researchers showed that when a bee lands, the flower’s potential changes and remains so for several minutes. Could this be a way by which flowers tell bees another bee has recently been visiting? To their surprise, the researchers discovered that bumblebees can detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields.
    Also, the researchers found that when bees were given a learning test, they were faster at learning the difference between two colours when electric signals were also available.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....143900.htm

    Research Discovers Oldest Bee – Oct. 26, 2006
    Excerpt: Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered the oldest bee ever known, a 100 million year old specimen preserved in almost lifelike form in amber,,,
    The earliest angiosperms (flowering plants) didn’t really begin to spread rapidly until a little over 100 millions years ago, a time that appears to correspond with the (appearance) of bees,,.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....184944.htm

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