Scientists have found a way to read animal facial expressions and ascertain their emotional and physical state.
Have you ever wished that your pet could just tell you how it's currently feeling? Humans can usually tell how other people are feeling by interpreting facial expressions. However, this isn't as easy to do when it comes to our animal companions. We can tell how someone else feels by a single look at their face, but we can't do the same with animals. However, what if there's an app that can help you tell how your cat is feeling just by holding your phone to its face?
There really is an app for everything, or at least there will be. Scientists are now developing a program that can accurately determine an emotion an animal is feeling based on the animal's facial expressions.
This may be a nice, entertaining app to have, but it's not all for cuteness and entertainment. Determining an animal's state of health and what it is feeling without having to perform invasive, stressful, and painful tests is ideal. One way to do this is looking at an animal's face to see if it is stressed, in pain, scared, bored, happy, or relaxed.
Scientists have already developed so-called “grimace scales”, a pain-coding system that determines how much pain an animal is in. So far, the system only works for non-primates that show pain in similar ways. Animals like rats, horses, rabbits, and sheep all have similar facial expressions that correspond to pain. Their eyes tighten, their mouths tense, their cheeks bulge or go flat, and they move their ears. Thus, if we can tell when an animal is in pain, theoretically we should also be able to tell when an animal is experiencing other emotions.
It's possible that animal facial expressions evolved for the same reason that human facial expressions did. Facial expressions are a big part in communicating with each other. For example, animals can give each other subtle cues to help other members of their species avoid predators or sources of pain.
An app that can determine an animal's emotional state can be extremely useful for veterinarians and farm hands. This way, they can immediately determine a course of action that can address an animal's needs. Of course, the app will also be useful for pet owners. Your cat may eventually be even less of an enigma. Unfortunately, the app won't be able to tell you if your cat is plotting against you.
Researchers are already in the planning stages for gathering information necessary to developing the app. The first thing that they need to do is to define emotion in a testable way that isn't specific to any individual species. The second thing to do is to perform controlled experiments that will reveal baseline data about emotional expressions in animals.
There's still quite some work to do before this app reaches our phones. However, it may well be worth the wait. After all, being able to accurately interpret animal facial expressions can be an amazing new dimension to our relationship with our animal companions.
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