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

Smith, AV; Proops, L; Grounds, K; Wathan, J; Scott, SK; McComb, K; (2018) Domestic horses (Equus caballus) discriminate between negative and positive human nonverbal vocalisations. Scientific Reports , 8 , Article 13052. 10.1038/s41598-018-30777-z. Green open access

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Abstract

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.

Type: Article
Title: Domestic horses (Equus caballus) discriminate between negative and positive human nonverbal vocalisations
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-30777-z
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-30777-z
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author(s) 2018 Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Te images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10056096
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