Laterality and emotions: visual laterality in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) differs with objects' emotional value

Physiol Behav. 2008 Jun 9;94(3):487-90. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.03.002. Epub 2008 Mar 12.


Lateralization of emotions has received great attention in the last decades, both in humans and animals, but little interest has been given to side bias in perceptual processing. Here, we investigated the influence of the emotional valence of stimuli on visual and olfactory explorations by horses, a large mammalian species with two large monocular visual fields and almost complete decussation of optic fibres. We confronted 38 Arab mares to three objects with either a positive, negative or neutral emotional valence (novel object). The results revealed a gradient of exploration of the 3 objects according to their emotional value and a clear asymmetry in visual exploration. When exploring the novel object, mares used preferentially their right eyes, while they showed a slight tendency to use their left eyes for the negative object. No asymmetry was evidenced for the object with the positive valence. A trend for an asymmetry in olfactory investigation was also observed. Our data confirm the role of the left hemisphere in assessing novelty in horses like in many vertebrate species and the possible role of the right hemisphere in processing negative emotional responses. Our findings also suggest the importance of both hemispheres in the processing positive emotions. This study is, to our knowledge, the first to demonstrate clearly that the emotional valence of a stimulus induces a specific visual lateralization pattern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Dominance, Ocular / physiology*
  • Emotions*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pregnancy
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Visual Fields / physiology