The key to understanding animals better is revealed in new study

Just by listening to a whine, a grunt, a bleat or a moo, can you tell if an animal is happy or distressed? A study led by ethologist Elodie Briefer shows that more than half of people can correctly interpret the meaning of the sounds of the animals.

The study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, recorded the sounds emitted by animals in situations of varied arousal and associated with a positive or negative valence. Emotional valence was then verified through behavioral indicators and heart rate. In addition, human gibberish sounds made by actors were recorded.

These sounds were then presented to 1,024 participants from 48 countries, who had previously filled out a questionnaire answering questions about gender, age, educational level, whether they had children and whether their work or studies were related to animals.

After listening to the sounds, the participants were asked to guess if the sound was high or low arousal or positive or negative emotional charge. In addition, they had to complete a standard empathy test.

In more than half of the cases, the participants were able to correctly interpret the meaning of the sounds of the animals. An interesting fact is that people were better able to detect the level of emotional arousal than the type of emotion.

Sex and educational level did not influence people’s ability to interpret animal noises, but age did: people between 20 and 29 years old obtained the best results. In addition, people with an animal-related trade demonstrated greater ability to understand sounds, suggesting that interspecies communication can improve with exposure and practice.

The people with the best empathy score were the ones who knew how to best interpret the emotions of animals through sounds, suggesting that all mammals share an emotional system.

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