How our emotions are transferred to animals

New studies show the importance of emotional interaction between humans and other animals. A phenomenon that is becoming better known.

Kids with a dog and a cat @BelgaImage

Whether you are happy or depressed, do not think that your pets will remain untouched by your state of mind! Decades after scientists (finally) admitted the presence of emotion in our faithful companions, they are increasingly interested in another mechanism: the emotional transmission between us and them. A new study from the University of Copenhagen has once again proved this by examining the reaction of several animals to our emotions. Examples that confirm what many researchers have already noticed.

When pigs and horses reproduce our emotions

In the present case, the Danish scientists were more particularly interested in single-headed (domestic and Prjevalski horses) and southern (pigs and wild boars). They exposed them alternately to human voices, sometimes representing positive emotions and other times negative emotions. Result: Except for the boars, everyone has obviously made the difference between the two, just as when they are brought to react to the feelings of their own innate.

Our results show that these animals are affected by the emotions transmitted by our voices when we talk to them or are around them. They respond more strongly – usually faster – when exposed to a negatively charged voice, compared to a positively charged voice. In some situations, they even seem to reflect the emotions they are exposed to.”Co-author of the study, Elodie Briefer, explains to Science Daily.

As reported by the French daily Le Parisien, the researcher puts forward three hypotheses to explain the phenomenon. The first would be that the expression of our emotions is a legacy common to at least a whole lot of the animal kingdom, sounds often have the same meaning (bass equals threat or anger, treble to enthusiasm and excitement). Second track: domestication causes our respective emotions to respond more and more. Finally, it may be that animals adapt to our emotional mechanisms by knowing. “These three hypotheses are not exclusive and can all play a role in emotional contagion, on different scales depending on the species.“, Clarifies Elodie Briefer.

Chimpanzees that calm us and dogs as stressed as us

In addition to this study, there is countless pieces of evidence on animals’ emotional intelligence. After all, why should they be different from humans, who are themselves animals? However, it took time for this idea to reach consensus. As the eminent Dutch primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal recalls of France Inter, Charles Darwin well accepted the hypothesis that we are not the only ones who feel emotions, but his theory did not hit the target. It took almost a century for neuroscientists to bring this idea to the scientific community.

Frans de Waal explains that researchers today are well aware that in many cases the emotional mechanism is the same in humans and animals. The rat, for example, is afraid of us just as we may be afraid of them, the amygdala is activated in the same way in both cases. Another striking example: Mama, a female chimpanzee. While she was dying, she was visited by primatologist Jan van Hooff, who came to say goodbye. The video of the scene has remained famous. Mama then tries to reassure her host by kissing and hugging him, just as she would a young chimpanzee. Frans de Waal is also not surprised when he hears the story of cats cuddling up to their humans and spinning when they are not feeling well, or when for several days they are tracking a woman who has just lost her husband. The ethologist sees it as a typical reaction to someone’s distress, which is present globally in mammals. This is called “comfort behavior”.

Another study looking at the phenomenon was conducted at Linköping University in Sweden. The researchers then noted that a human could transfer more emotions to his dog. For example, the levels of cortisol (the indicator of stress par excellence) of one and the other could be synchronized. “It was the owner’s personality that affected the level of cortisol in the dog’s hair, rather than the dog’s personality.“, One of the authors of the study, Lina Roth, explains to the Guardian.If the owner is stressed, the dog is likely to reflect that stress as wellThat being said, the bond between human and dog can also be more complex. Thus, a neurotic person will be more likely to have a less stressed dog. The reason: this one is more likely to pet him and spend time with him which logically appeals to him. “Your dog is social support for you and you are social support for the dog.“.

Grieving dogs and cats and pranking monkeys

More generally, scientists are constantly collecting evidence of emotional manifestations in animals. A famous example is inseparable birds, where one of the members of the pair’s death causes the other’s death every few days or weeks. Frans de Waal also mentions the case of dogs that stop feeding when a fellow animal from the same household dies. In the case of cats, some react in the same way, others with apparent indifference. The difference between these two animals will be mainly due to their sense of group, dogs that are descended from wolves that live in herds, as opposed to cats that are solitary in the wild. Human responses to a death would be placed between dogs and cats.

Sociologist Jean-François Dortier, for his part, notes that humor has sometimes been clearly identified in animals other than us. It appears from observations made in an American zoo with a group of monkeys. One of them had fun holding water in his mouth and then spitting on park visitors. Immediately the other chimpanzees collapsed on the ground laughing.

Different and similar animals

Of course, animals are also very different from each other. If the emotions are already very different within the human species, this is even more true on the scale of the whole fauna. It is therefore very likely that snakes and turtles do not feel attached as we do, these species do not need to care for their young. It is completely different for sharks and orcas, which can carry their prematurely dead babies over long distances for days. But overall, emotions are especially crucial to animal survival. The best example is fear. An entire shoal of fish can thus flee when they see one of their fellow fish whizzing away at high speed in the face of a threat. Ditto for horses, where this emotional contagion has also been noticed.

In the interview with France 5, Christophe Haag, researcher in social psychology at EMLYON, finally explains that a wide range of emotional mechanisms allow humans and animals to communicate with each other, and this in both directions. “We know that the emotions expressed through the voice and face will be reflected in dogs and cats, even when they are negative. When you train a dog through anger, he feels it right away. In the other direction, for example, we observe that dogs and cats can evoke completely authentic, sincere, and quite intense emotions in us that are quite positive most of the time. Each releases oxytocin, which is a true chemical barometer for mammals in mammals“, he explains. So if you want to lower your blood pressure or stress, you know what to do. Play five minutes with your companion, and that way you will both enjoy a real natural antianxiety agent.

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