In short, the scientists learned that goats can "distinguish between happy and angry images of the same person", and in general, they prefer their humans to be happy.
The goats spent 50 percent more time hovering around the photographs of smiling people - specifically interacting with the happy photos "first, more often and for a longer duration", researchers said. The authors theorised that this may be related to a difference in brain hemisphere engagement with happy expressions.
Goats at the Buttercups Sanctuary.
Images of both were placed in an enclosed area, and researchers systematically guided the goats into the vicinity where the images were. The goats in the study made a beeline for the happy face, the researchers report in the journal Open Science. Other animals also exhibit right-side bias when processing pro-social stimuli; horses, for instance, show a preferential use of their right eye when looking at a human who has previously shown them a positive emotion.
Bernard the goat being offered a smiling and angry face.
Scientists studying 20 goats and their reactions to photos of humans.
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 Natalia Albuquerque, from the University of Sao Paulo, said: "The study of emotion perception has already shown very complex abilities in dogs and horses".
The study suggests that goats seemed to have picked up a few human-reading tricks over their history as domesticated animals. "Our results open new paths to understanding the emotional lives of all domestic animals".
They can climb near verticle mountains to reach salt at the summit that they love to snack on, and are said to be among the cleverest of animals.
As it turned out, these animals process the information is not worse than cats, dogs and horses and also know how to read people's emotions.