EMO­TIONAL IN­TEL­LI­GENCE

STAND ASIDE DR DOLIT­TLE! ANY HU­MAN CAN READ AN­I­MALS’ MINDS, AC­CORD­ING TO A RE­CENT STUDY.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild News - Writ­ten by STU­ART BLACK­MAN SOURCE Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal So­ci­ety B LINK http://bit.ly/2uLpBoK

For­get talk­ing to the an­i­mals; most peo­ple can rou­tinely read their minds. New re­search shows that hu­mans can gauge an­i­mals’ emo­tional states based solely on the sounds they are mak­ing.

Bi­ol­o­gists led by Piera Filippi of the Univer­sity of Aix-Mar­seille, France, have found that hu­mans can tell from an an­i­mal’s call whether it is aroused or re­laxed – and not only pri­mates and other mam­mals, but birds, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians, too. Species they in­ves­ti­gated in­cluded Bar­bary macaques, African ele­phants, Amer­i­can al­li­ga­tors, ravens and hour­glass treefrogs.

This holds true for English, Ger­man and Man­darin speak­ers. “So this is not driven by cul­ture. It seems to be bi­o­log­i­cally rooted,” Filippi tells BBC Wildlife.

So how are we able to spot aroused vo­cal­i­sa­tions? “It’s about the tone of voice,” she says. The pitch is im­por­tant – the higher the arousal, the shriller the sound.

“The fact this works for all eight species tested, in­clud­ing groups that are so an­cient and dis­tant from us, sug­gests this char­ac­ter­is­tic was al­ready present in the ear­li­est ter­res­trial ver­te­brates,” says Filippi. That might be be­cause we’re all equipped with vari­a­tions on the same ba­sic vo­cal ap­pa­ra­tus, which vi­brates when air is forced through it. “Dur­ing arousal, mus­cles are tenser and pres­sures are higher,” she adds.

Filippi is now plan­ning to test whether in­sects, too, con­form to the pat­tern. That would be re­mark­able, given that in­sects don’t even vo­calise, but pro­duce sound by rub­bing parts of their bod­ies to­gether.

Mean­while, hu­mans might not be alone in our abil­ity to dis­crim­i­nate other species’ emo­tional states from their calls. Filippi’s team is cur­rently test­ing whether black-capped chick­adees can also do it, by train­ing them to recog­nise the aroused vo­cal­i­sa­tions of one species then see­ing if they can gen­er­alise to oth­ers. “Such a skill might be use­ful for de­tect­ing im­mi­nent dan­gers,” she says.

Hu­mans can tell if an an­i­mal is stressed by the sounds it makes.

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