Goats can distinguish emotions from the calls of other goats

  • Tuesday, July 9, 2019

It has been found that goats can probably distinguish subtle emotional changes in the calls of other goats, according to a new study led by Dr Alan McElligott from the Department of Life Sciences.


Image - Goats can distinguish emotions from the calls of other goats

The researcher team measured behavioural and physiological changes in goats to determine if they can differentiate between calls that are linked to positive and negative emotions.

It was found that when the emotion of a call changed, the likeliness of the goats to look towards the source of the sound also changed. This suggests that they can distinguish the emotional content of calls of another goat.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, also shows that the goats’ heart-rate variability - the variation in time between each heartbeat – was greater when positive calls were played compared to when negative calls were played.

Together, these results provide the first strong evidence that goats are not only able to distinguish call variants based on the emotion that they convey, but also that their own emotions are potentially affected.   

Many social animals live under environmental conditions where individuals are not always in visual contact with one another during the day or night, and therefore, could acquire an evolutionary advantage through the discrimination of the emotional content of the calls of others from their species.

Dr Alan McElligott said: “Perceiving the emotional state of another individual through its vocalisations and being affected by those vocalisations has important implications for how we care for domestic animals, and in particular livestock species.”

The study was carried out when Dr McElligott was based at Queen Mary University of London and was conducted in collaboration withETH Zurich and University of Turin.

The Department of Life Sciences offers outstanding undergraduate courses in Biological Sciences and Zoology as well as an integrated BSc and MSc in Biological Sciences and Zoology.

Photo Credit: Brian Squibb