Scientists have learned that animals’ vocalizations can give us clues about their emotions. This includes pigs, horses, and goats. Researchers claim their findings indicate that sounds seem to carry information about the intensity of an animal’s emotions in a consistent fashion across species.
The researchers also tested participants’ ability to identify whether an animal was happy or sad based on its facial expression. Briefer and coworkers report recording the sounds of six different species of animals for scientific study in the journal Royal Society Open Science: horses, pigs, goats, cattle, Przewalski’s horses (wild horses), and wild boars. The researchers took note of whether the sound was produced when the animal was aroused (as indicated by a rapid heart rate or increased activity) and whether it was produced in a good context, such when the animal was anticipating food, or a negative situation, as when the animal was separated.
For humans, the researchers listened to recordings of meaningless strings of dialogue delivered with anger or fear to stand in for higher and lower emotional intensity, and with anger or joy to stand in for negative or positive context, respectively. Then, they had 1,024 people from 48 different nations listen to the sound pairs online.
Four pairs of vocalizations from each species were played to the participants. They were asked to score the strength of the sound’s emotional impact as high or low for two pairs, and positive or negative for the other two. Overall, respondents accurately identified the subject’s level of emotional intensity 54.1% of the time, and the emotion type 55.3% of the time, according to the data.
When the data was further analyzed, however, the team discovered that the participants only outperformed chance on both measures when evaluating pig, horse, goat, human, and – for type of emotion only – wild boar vocalizations.
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