Are emotions between humans and animals contagious?

We saw it with Covid-19, a virus can be transmitted from one species to another. And can emotions also be “contagious”? Can our joy, our fear, or our anger be felt as such by the animals around us? This huge question, which had already begun to be explored scientifically, was recently taken seriously by a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen.

In an attempt to provide new answers, they measured the reactions of domestic horses and pigs, wild horses (Prjevalski’s horse) and wild boar, confronted with a human voice loaded with sometimes positive and sometimes negative emotions. For Elodie Briefer, co-author of the study and associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, “the way we talk to animals and what they perceive of our emotions has a direct impact on their own emotions and their well-being, resulting in changes in their behavioral responses, depending on the tone of voice. ”So yes, the feeling would be contagious!

An obvious feeling

This study reinforces for new species (ungulates and southern Jews) a feeling that anyone living with a dog or cat can have. In order for our animals to feel good, we need to talk nicely to him. Agreed on Champ-de-Mars with the dog owners during the morning walk. The atmosphere is friendly between people, but not only. Funny to see that each dog is rewarded with a caress, but also welcomed in conjunction with a joyful “Hello!”: Hi Ria, hi Pepper, hi Prozac … (courtesy to dogs sometimes comes even before courtesy between And the dogs are obviously happy to frolic in the middle of all these people wishing them the best. Lola, Pushkin’s “dog mother,” a magnificent Collie, shares her secret with us: talking to her; and I talk to him … all the time. I also use a lot of little loving words and even say “please wait” or “please”. It is clear that Pushkin was brushed in the direction of the hair (which he incidentally gave).

Maria, the owner of Freddy, a mix of blue-eyed Husky / Australian Shepherd, “always spoke softly and tenderly to (their) dog. He is sensitive to the tone I use, but he also understands everything I say to When he demands at the table and annoys us, we raise our voices, he goes annoyed and he sulks. ”Are irritation and murmurous feelings that a dog can have? It’s hard to get into Freddy’s head, but his reaction shows, that it has consequences to use a negatively charged tone.And although it seems common and observable to us on a daily basis with our animals, let us pay attention to witnessing a real achievement: the perception of emotions conveyed in a language, there is absolutely no language of the dog species, and which resounds on the emotional.the state of the animal.the beginning of empathy?

In an attempt to understand where this ability to decode and interpret would come from, Elodie Briefer lists three hypotheses that could explain emotional transmission between species. The first of these would be that we have preserved universal characteristics of our very distant common ancestors in the way we express our feelings (for yes, somewhere in history we have an identical parent with dogs, horses or pigs). It is true that in many species (including ours) loud noises are more often associated with enthusiasm and excitement and low noises with threat or anger. Second hypothesis of emotional contagion: through the process of domestication, we would have subconsciously chosen the lines that responded best to human emotions: an ability that is then passed down from generation to generation. Last mentioned reason: confidentiality. Animals, wild as domestic animals, in daily contact with humans learn to recognize their emotions and adapt to them. “These three hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and can all play a role in emotional contagion on different scales depending on the species.”

So let’s take the consequences. Although our closest furry companions help us get better when we hit hard times, be careful not to overload them with our negative emotions. They are real mushrooms!

Ref: Maigrot, AL., Hillmann, E. & Briefer, EC Transversal discrimination of vocal expressions of emotional valence of Equidae and Suidae. BMC Biol 20, 106 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12915-022-01311-5

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