Domestic horses (Equus caballus) discriminate between negative and positive human nonverbal vocalisations

Smith, Amy Victoria, Proops, Leanne, Grounds, Kate, Wathan, Jennifer, Scott, Sophie K and McComb, Karen (2018) Domestic horses (Equus caballus) discriminate between negative and positive human nonverbal vocalisations. Scientific Reports, 8 (13502). pp. 1-8. ISSN 2045-2322

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The ability to discriminate between emotion in vocal signals is highly adaptive in social species. It may also be adaptive for domestic species to distinguish such signals in humans. Here we present a playback study investigating whether horses spontaneously respond in a functionally relevant way towards positive and negative emotion in human nonverbal vocalisations. We presented horses with positively- and negatively-valenced human vocalisations (laughter and growling, respectively) in the absence of all other emotional cues. Horses were found to adopt a freeze posture for significantly longer immediately after hearing negative versus positive human vocalisations, suggesting that negative voices promote vigilance behaviours and may therefore be perceived as more threatening. In support of this interpretation, horses held their ears forwards for longer and performed fewer ear movements in response to negative voices, which further suggest increased vigilance. In addition, horses showed a right-ear/left-hemisphere bias when attending to positive compared with negative voices, suggesting that horses perceive laughter as more positive than growling. These findings raise interesting questions about the potential for universal discrimination of vocal affect and the role of lifetime learning versus other factors in interspecific communication.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Animal Behaviour; Psychology; Social Evolution
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Depositing User: Anna Hobbs
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2018 09:15
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2018 13:23

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
BBSRC doctoral studentshipUnsetBBSRCBB/F016808/1