Pet Talk 101

Watch your tone! Professor Fluffykins might be listening.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

You know what it’s called when someone’s good or bad mood rubs off on you? “Emotional Contagion.” This helps build social bonds within AND between species. Domesticated animals can distinguish between our emotions through facial expressions. But what about through our VOICES?

Anne-Laure Maigrot and team from ETH Zürich in Switzerland investigated. 

A voice actor recorded gibberish portraying either joy and amusement OR anger and fear. This was replayed to domesticated horses and pigs. And? There were distinct differences in their responses to negative and positive sounds! This included spending less time eating or standing and reacting faster to the negative sounds. 

This suggests that domesticated animals can differentiate “the sound” of human emotions! The researchers think that animals with better perception of human emotions were selected during the history of domestication. 

No more feeling embarrassed about baby-talking to our pets! “Who’s a poo poo bear?” vs “Fetch, darn it!”

Reference: Maigrot, A.-L., Hillmann, E., & Briefer, E. F. (2022). Cross-species discrimination of vocal expression of emotional valence by Equidae and Suidae. BMC Biology, 20(1).