When you’re startled by screeching violins in a horror movie or feel a peppy pop song lift your spirits, you’re doing something that scientists have rarely observed in the animal kingdom: having different emotional responses to different types of music. Now, pigs provide compelling new evidence that animals can also respond emotionally to music. The finding may lead to ways to improve their welfare on farms.
“It’s a very careful study” that shows animals are more emotionally attuned to music than people think, says Charles Snowdon, a psychologist and animal behavior expert at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the study. work “I’ve been trying to argue this for a decade, so it’s nice to see this empirical work back it up.”
Music is sometimes used as enrichment for farm and other captive animals. And Snowball, the dancing cockatoo, likes to boogie with the Backstreet Boys. But it’s unclear whether these creatures have a true emotional response to the tunes.
That’s what the new study aimed to do, but with pigs. Co-author Maria Camila Ceballos, an animal welfare scientist at the University of Calgary, says she and her colleagues chose these animals because they are highly intelligent and social, and face serious welfare challenges on farms factories
In the new study, Ceballos’ colleague Berardo de Jesús Rodríguez, a veterinarian and musician at the University of Antioquia, Medellin, composed 16 pieces of music with piano, string, wind and percussion melodies that were primarily consonant or dissonant . To humans, consonant music generally sounds nice and smooth, think of a C major chord, while dissonance tends to sound jarring and uncomfortable, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s score. psychology.
The team then filmed six litters of 10 to 12 young pigs listening to the music through a loudspeaker in a university pig farm. The musical pieces, each lasting between 3 and 5 minutes, were played in a random order with a 3-minute break in between.
The researchers scored the pigs’ body language on 20 emotional parameters, including “content” and “uncomfortable” using an approach called qualitative behavior assessment (QBA). The method consists of observing the posture, behavior and interaction of an animal with its environment. For example, QBA can distinguish pigs that have been given the anti-hypertension drug azaperone from those that have not, because they consistently appear more visually curious and less nervous. Stressed animals with higher heart rates and body temperatures can also be visually identified as more agitated and restless using QBA.
Consonant music pieces were linked to pigs experiencing positive emotions, while dissonant music was linked to negative emotions, the team reports this month in Scientific reports. “So we found that, yes, music generates different emotions,” says Ceballos. (The pigs’ reactions to the different music can be seen in the video above.)
Animal welfare scientist Jun Bao of Northeast China Agricultural University is skeptical that Ceballos’ team detected emotions, however. He recently discovered that exposure to string and wind music increases tail wagging and wagging in pigs, which he sees as signs of a “positive mood.” However, he says it’s not clear that pigs labeled as “happy” or “uncomfortable” via QBA actually experience these emotions.
Snowdon says that emotional descriptions are a matter of interpretation. In his own work, he has seen monkeys shake their heads, jump quickly between perches, and have their fur stand on end in response to music. “We didn’t use the word emotion,” he says, “but they showed behaviors that we think are indicative of anxiety.”
Ceballos hopes the study will help researchers create well-being-enhancing music, tailored for a specific species. Bao agrees that music can probably be therapeutic for stressed animals. However, it is not sure of its usefulness with healthy animals that may eventually lose interest. “But it’s really interesting, because if it works, it would be the most practical and economical way to enrich its environment.”