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News Article

Goats can discriminate emotions conveyed in calls of other goats

Research suggests that non-human animals are not only attentive, but might also be sensitive to the emotional states of other individuals

Goats can probably distinguish subtle emotional changes in the calls of other goats, according to a study led by Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers measured behavioural and physiological changes in goats to determine if they can differentiate between calls linked to positive and negative emotions.

They found that when the emotion of a call changed, the likeliness of the goats to look towards the source of the sound also changed suggesting that they can distinguish the emotional content of calls of another goat.

The study, published in Frontiers in Zoology, also shows that the goats’ heart-rate variability was greater when positive calls were played compared to when negative calls were played.

Together, these results provide evidence that goats are not only able to distinguish call variants based on the emotion that they convey, but also that their own emotions are potentially affected.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Roehampton, ETH Zurich and University of Turin.

Luigi Baciadonna, lead author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Despite its evolutionary importance, social communication of emotions in non-human animals is still not well understood. Our results suggest that non-human animals are not only attentive, but might also be sensitive to the emotional states of other individuals.”

In the study, the researchers recorded calls of goats which conveyed either positive or negative emotions. They then played one of these calls through a loudspeaker to another goat. They subsequently exposed that goat to a variant of the same call type associated with the opposite emotion. This was followed by a final call which was randomly selected.

The researchers also controlled variables often neglected in this field of research by assessing the emotional state of both the caller and the receiver. In addition, only contact calls were used so that the reaction of the receiver would be purely dependent on the encoded emotions, rather than the function of vocalisations.

Article: Baciadonna, L., Briefer, E. F., Favaro, L., McElligott, A. G. (2019). Goats distinguish between positive and negative emotion-linked vocalisations. Frontiers in Zoology, 16:25, doi: 10.1186/s12983-019-0323-z

Article details

  • Date
  • 11 July 2019
  • Source
  • Queen Mary University of London