Feeling mehhh: Goats bleat to reveal their emotions to companions

Goats don’t just randomly bleat, a study shows. 
Image: Anton Havelaar/123RF

Goat bleats not only sound remarkably human, they are also key to revealing feelings to their companions, according to new research that deepens our understanding of the animals’ emotional complexity.

As part of a study published on Tuesday in Frontiers of Zoology, scientists played the ruminants a series of calls, that were either happy or sad, from a hidden speaker.

To obtain the positive calls, they approached goats with buckets of food. For the negative calls, they recorded goats that were frustrated at not being fed while others were.

When they switched from playing one type of bleat to the other, the goats were more likely to look toward the source of the sound and walk about, suggesting they were able to distinguish its emotional content.

What’s more, readings of heart-rate variation taken from the goats corresponded to a positive, more relaxed state when they were played the happy calls, and a distressed state when the sad calls were played.

“It is quite crucial for us, because often we talk about animal welfare and how we can improve animal life in a farm setting,” said Luigi Baciadonna, lead author of the study, from the Queen Mary University of London.

It means that if some goats in a group are distressed or content, that can cause a ripple effect among others.

Baciadonna would next like to investigate whether goats are able to respond to different emotions displayed by humans.



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