Goats have moods too, and a new study suggests that their sense of optimism surges after rescue from neglect.
The study looked at 18 goats living at a goat sanctuary in the United Kingdom. The sanctuary takes in and cares for animals that have been abused or neglected.
Nine of the goats had suffered from a poor diet, lack of space or other grievous conditions. One goat, for example, had lived in a very small enclosure and was fed so irresponsibly that it was obese. Another had injuries that were untreated. And one was kept in a space so tiny, it couldn’t turn around.
The other nine goats had been raised with enough space, companionship and food. They ended up at the sanctuary because their owners couldn’t keep them anymore. Goats in both groups had lived at the sanctuary for at least two years.
To test mood, the researchers, from Queen Mary University of London, trained the goats to recognize two regions of an enclosure — one corridor contained food and one didn’t. Then, they were given the opportunity to explore an ambiguous area where they weren’t sure if there would be a food reward or not.
To the researchers’ surprise, female goats that had been previously mistreated went more quickly to the ambiguous locations than did females with happier backgrounds. Reaction times were the same for males from both groups.
Those results suggest that animals with a suffering-filled background were unexpectedly optimistic, which is an encouraging sign that rehabilitation programs can work.
“Optimism improves physical and mental health in humans, and most probably in other animals as well, because optimistic individuals are more resilient to stress and have better copying strategies,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “Therefore, good care is essential to promote optimism, particularly in domestic animals that have experienced poor husbandry.”