Emotions are important because they enable the selection of appropriate behavioural decisions in response to external or internal events. Techniques for understanding and assessing animal emotions, and particularly positive ones, are lacking. Emotions can be characterized by two dimensions: their arousal (bodily excitation) and their valence (negative or positive). Both dimensions can affect emotions in different ways. It is thus crucial to assess their effects on biological parameters simultaneously, so that accurate indicators of arousal and valence can be identified. To find convenient and noninvasive tools to assess emotions in goats, Capra hircus, we measured physiological, behavioural and vocal responses of goats in four situations: (1) control (no external stimulus, neutral); (2) anticipation of a food reward (positive); (3) food-related frustration (negative); (4) isolation away from conspecifics (negative). These situations were characterized by different levels of arousal, assessed a posteriori by heart rates measured during the tests. We found several clear, reliable indicators of arousal and valence. During situations of higher arousal, goats had lower heart rate variability and higher respiration rates. They displayed more head movements, moved more, had their ears pointed forwards more often and on the side (horizontal) less often and produced more calls. They also produced calls with higher fundamental frequencies and higher energy distribution. In positive situations, goats had their ears oriented backwards less often and spent more time with their tails up than in negative situations. Furthermore, they produced calls in which the fundamental frequencies were less variable. Our methods for assessing the effects of emotional arousal and valence on biological parameters could lead to more effective monitoring and understanding of animal emotions, as well as to a better understanding of the evolution of emotions through cross-species comparisons.
Briefer, E. F., Tettamanti, F., & McElligott, A. G. (2015). Emotions in goats: mapping physiological, behavioural and vocal profiles. Animal Behaviour, 99, 131-143.