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People that have been around animals understand that they can understand human emotions and sense different moods. Now, research has found that domestic animals can understand emotions just from a person’s voice.

According to the research published in BMC Biology, domestic horses, pigs, and Asian wild horses can discriminate between positive and negative vocalizations produced not only in their same species but also in different species groups, including humans.

In the past, experiments have found that animals like horses can read different facial expressions. They found that horses have 17 different facial expressions, which is three more than chimpanzees, and one more than dogs. Now, we know that they can also detect emotion in voices.

Source: Nature on PBS/YouTube

The researchers looked at a range of animals and examined their reactions to human voices with different emotional undertones. They played a sound for the animals of a voice actor speaking real words but formed together in a nonsensical way in case the animals could understand certain words and associate them with emotion. In these experiments, the team also wanted to test whether or not animals could mirror the emotions that they heard. The study suggests that they can. They examined the ear position, their movement, and the lack thereof.

“Our results show that these animals are affected by the emotions we charge our voices with when we speak to or are around them. They react more strongly – generally faster – when they are met with a negatively charged voice, compared to having a positively charged voice played to them first. In certain situations, they even seem to mirror the emotion to which they are exposed,” said Elodie Briefer, behavioral biologist and researcher in the study.

This study shows that it is incredibly important how we speak to animals and speaks to the true sentience of animals around us.

“When the animals reacted strongly to hearing negatively charged speech first, the same is also true in the reverse. That is, if animals are initially spoken to in a more positive, friendly voice, when met by people, they should react less. They may become calmer and more relaxed,” explained Briefer.

The researchers plan to test now if humans can detect the emotions of domestic animals.

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