In the collective imagination, goats are playful and whimsical. But a study reveals that these herbivores are much more observant than we think. They would be able to discern human emotions by listening to the intonations of our voices.
The researchers behind this research made the discovery after observing the behavior of 27 goats living in a sanctuary in the United Kingdom. They played them recordings of human voices, which expressed a range of different emotions.
This experiment showed that goats pay more attention to sound clips when various intonations are heard. “We predicted that if goats could distinguish the emotional content conveyed by the human voice, they would change their attitude, looking more quickly and longer towards the source of the sound, after the first change in valence (indicator of how a stimulus is felt emotionally, editor’s note.)“said Dr. Marianne Mason, co-author of the study, in a press release.
Dr. Marianne Mason and her colleagues noticed that most ruminants who looked at the speaker focused particularly on this object when it played a voice recording in which different intonations could be heard. The academics therefore concluded that these goats perceived the emotional nuances in the human voice.
It is important to emphasize that not all goats reacted in the same way to voice intonations. Many of them don’t seem to notice the changes in valence, which could be due to a multitude of factors.
Regardless, researchers are convinced that these herbivores are much more sensitive to tones of voice than has long been thought. “Here we provide the first evidence that goats can distinguish cues expressed in the human voice, particularly emotional valence. These observations add to the limited literature reporting the sensitivity of livestock, like pets, to emotional signals from humans.“, they write in their study, published in the journal Animal Behavior.
This study improves our understanding of the cognitive abilities of goats. These animals would, like dogs, be particularly attentive to our body language. A study, published in 2018 in the Royal Society Open Science, affirms that these herbivores have a clear preference for faces expressing joy. Proof that they are far from stupid.