Special Issue "Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Human-Animal Interactions, Animal Behaviour and Emotion".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Emanuela Prato-Previde
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, Via Fratelli Cervi 93, 20090 Segrate (MI), Italy
Interests: comparative psychology; animal cognition; human-animal interaction; human-dog relationship
Dr. Paola Maria Valsecchi
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Chemistry, Life Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, University of Parma, Parco Area delle Scienze 11/A, 43124 Parma, Italy
Interests: animal behavior; animal welfare; human-dog relationship; dog cognition

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Recognizing the emotional states of others plays a pivotal role in both intra- and inter-specific social relationships. Humans have shared their life with either companion or farm animals for a long time but today in the society there is a growing need to develop a respectful and ethical relationship with them. This requires a deeper understanding of their emotional life and of the different modalities animals use to express and communicate it to us. Yet, the human-animal relationship is based on reciprocity which includes animals' ability to recognize humans’ emotions. Despite the popular opinion that animals are sensitive to human emotional states and that humans can easily recognize either positive and negative emotions expressed by species living close to us, researchers are still far from having a clear insight on whether and how mutual emotion recognition between human and animals occurs.

The aim of this Special Issue is therefore to gather the most recent scientific findings on the topic of inter-specific emotion recognition: awareness of the emotional side of the relationship would support more correct human-animal interactions thus promoting animal welfare. Original manuscripts that address different aspects of this topic are invited for this special issue: in particular behavioral, motivational and neuro-physiological perspectives on mutual recognition and sharing of emotional states within the human-animal relationship are welcome.

Dr. Emanuela Prato-Previde
Dr. Paola Maria Valsecchi
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Animals is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • emotion expressions
  • emotion recognition
  • negative/positive emotions
  • human-animal relationship
  • animal welfare

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
What’s in a Meow? A Study on Human Classification and Interpretation of Domestic Cat Vocalizations
Animals 2020, 10(12), 2390; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10122390 - 14 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1253
Abstract
Although the domestic cat (Felis catus) is probably the most widespread companion animal in the world and interacts in a complex and multifaceted way with humans, the human–cat relationship and reciprocal communication have received far less attention compared, for example, to [...] Read more.
Although the domestic cat (Felis catus) is probably the most widespread companion animal in the world and interacts in a complex and multifaceted way with humans, the human–cat relationship and reciprocal communication have received far less attention compared, for example, to the human–dog relationship. Only a limited number of studies have considered what people understand of cats’ human-directed vocal signals during daily cat–owner interactions. The aim of the current study was to investigate to what extent adult humans recognize cat vocalizations, namely meows, emitted in three different contexts: waiting for food, isolation, and brushing. A second aim was to evaluate whether the level of human empathy toward animals and cats and the participant’s gender would positively influence the recognition of cat vocalizations. Finally, some insights on which acoustic features are relevant for the main investigation are provided as a serendipitous result. Two hundred twenty-five adult participants were asked to complete an online questionnaire designed to assess their knowledge of cats and to evaluate their empathy toward animals (Animal Empathy Scale). In addition, participants had to listen to six cat meows recorded in three different contexts and specify the context in which they were emitted and their emotional valence. Less than half of the participants were able to associate cats’ vocalizations with the correct context in which they were emitted; the best recognized meow was that emitted while waiting for food. Female participants and cat owners showed a higher ability to correctly classify the vocalizations emitted by cats during brushing and isolation. A high level of empathy toward cats was significantly associated with a better recognition of meows emitted during isolation. Regarding the emotional valence of meows, it emerged that cat vocalizations emitted during isolation are perceived by people as the most negative, whereas those emitted during brushing are perceived as most positive. Overall, it emerged that, although meowing is mainly a human-directed vocalization and in principle represents a useful tool for cats to communicate emotional states to their owners, humans are not particularly able to extract precise information from cats’ vocalizations and show a limited capacity of discrimination based mainly on their experience with cats and influenced by empathy toward them. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessArticle
Social Referencing in the Domestic Horse
Animals 2020, 10(1), 164; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010164 - 18 Jan 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3365
Abstract
Dogs and cats use human emotional information directed to an unfamiliar situation to guide their behavior, known as social referencing. It is not clear whether other domestic species show similar socio-cognitive abilities in interacting with humans. We investigated whether horses (n = [...] Read more.
Dogs and cats use human emotional information directed to an unfamiliar situation to guide their behavior, known as social referencing. It is not clear whether other domestic species show similar socio-cognitive abilities in interacting with humans. We investigated whether horses (n = 46) use human emotional information to adjust their behavior to a novel object and whether the behavior of horses differed depending on breed type. Horses were randomly assigned to one of two groups: an experimenter positioned in the middle of a test arena directed gaze and voice towards the novel object with either (a) a positive or (b) a negative emotional expression. The duration of subjects’ position to the experimenter and the object in the arena, frequency of gazing behavior, and physical interactions (with either object or experimenter) were analyzed. Horses in the positive condition spent more time between the experimenter and object compared to horses in the negative condition, indicating less avoidance behavior towards the object. Horses in the negative condition gazed more often towards the object than horses in the positive condition, indicating increased vigilance behavior. Breed types differed in their behavior: thoroughbreds showed less human-directed behavior than warmbloods and ponies. Our results provide evidence that horses use emotional cues from humans to guide their behavior towards novel objects. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessArticle
Horses Categorize Human Emotions Cross-Modally Based on Facial Expression and Non-Verbal Vocalizations
Animals 2019, 9(11), 862; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110862 - 24 Oct 2019
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 2421
Abstract
Over the last few years, an increasing number of studies have aimed to gain more insight into the field of animal emotions. In particular, it is of interest to determine whether animals can cross-modally categorize the emotions of others. For domestic animals that [...] Read more.
Over the last few years, an increasing number of studies have aimed to gain more insight into the field of animal emotions. In particular, it is of interest to determine whether animals can cross-modally categorize the emotions of others. For domestic animals that share a close relationship with humans, we might wonder whether this cross-modal recognition of emotions extends to humans, as well. In this study, we tested whether horses could recognize human emotions and attribute the emotional valence of visual (facial expression) and vocal (non-verbal vocalization) stimuli to the same perceptual category. Two animated pictures of different facial expressions (anger and joy) were simultaneously presented to the horses, while a speaker played an emotional human non-verbal vocalization matching one of the two facial expressions. Horses looked at the picture that was incongruent with the vocalization more, probably because they were intrigued by the paradoxical combination. Moreover, horses reacted in accordance with the valence of the vocalization, both behaviorally and physiologically (heart rate). These results show that horses can cross-modally recognize human emotions and react emotionally to the emotional states of humans, assessed by non-verbal vocalizations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessArticle
The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog–Owner Relationship
Animals 2019, 9(10), 792; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100792 - 12 Oct 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 3251
Abstract
Oxytocin (OT) is involved in multiple social bonds, from attachment between parents and offspring to “friendships”. Dogs are an interesting species in which to investigate the link between the oxytocinergic system and social bonds since they establish preferential bonds with their own species [...] Read more.
Oxytocin (OT) is involved in multiple social bonds, from attachment between parents and offspring to “friendships”. Dogs are an interesting species in which to investigate the link between the oxytocinergic system and social bonds since they establish preferential bonds with their own species but also with humans. Studies have shown that the oxytocinergic system may be involved in the regulation of such inter-specific relationships, with both dogs and their owners showing an increase in OT levels following socio-positive interactions. However, no direct comparison has been made in dogs’ OT reactivity following a social interaction with the owner vs. a familiar (but not bonded) person, so it is unclear whether relationship type mediates OT release during socio-positive interactions or whether the interaction per se is sufficient. Here we investigated OT reactivity in both dogs and owners, following a socio-positive interaction with each other or a familiar partner. Results showed neither the familiarity with the partner, nor the type of interaction affected OT reactivity (as measured in urine) in either dogs or owners. Given the recent mixed results on the role of oxytocin in dog-human interactions, we suggest there is a need for greater standardization of methodologies, an assessment of overall results taking into account ‘publication bias’ issues, and further studies investigating the role of relationship quality and interaction type on OT release. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessArticle
Are Horses (Equus caballus) Sensitive to Human Emotional Cues?
Animals 2019, 9(9), 630; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090630 - 29 Aug 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1921
Abstract
Emotions are important for social animals because animals’ emotions function as beneficial cues to identify valuable resources such as food or to avoid danger by providing environmental information. Emotions also enable animals to predict individuals’ behavior and determine how to behave in a [...] Read more.
Emotions are important for social animals because animals’ emotions function as beneficial cues to identify valuable resources such as food or to avoid danger by providing environmental information. Emotions also enable animals to predict individuals’ behavior and determine how to behave in a specific context. Recently, several studies have reported that dogs are highly sensitive to not only conspecific but also human emotional cues. These studies suggest that domestication may have affected such sensitivity. However, there are still few studies that examine whether other domesticated animals, in addition to dogs, exhibit sensitivity to human emotional cues. In this study, we used a gaze-following task to investigate whether horses (Equus caballus) are sensitive to human emotional cues (happy, neutral, disgust) and if they adjust their behavior accordingly. In the study, the experimenter suddenly turned her head to either right or left and showed emotional cues. The results revealed that horses significantly decreased the frequency with which they followed the experimenter’s gaze and the total looking time during the gaze-emotional cue presentation in the Disgust condition compared to the Neutral condition. These results suggest the possibility that horses are sensitive to human emotional cues and behave on the basis of the meaning implied by negative human emotional cues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessArticle
Auditory–Visual Matching of Conspecifics and Non-Conspecifics by Dogs and Human Infants
Animals 2019, 9(1), 17; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9010017 - 07 Jan 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2710
Abstract
We tested whether dogs and 14–16-month-old infants are able to integrate intersensory information when presented with conspecific and heterospecific faces and vocalisations. The looking behaviour of dogs and infants was recorded with a non-invasive eye-tracking technique while they were concurrently presented with a [...] Read more.
We tested whether dogs and 14–16-month-old infants are able to integrate intersensory information when presented with conspecific and heterospecific faces and vocalisations. The looking behaviour of dogs and infants was recorded with a non-invasive eye-tracking technique while they were concurrently presented with a dog and a female human portrait accompanied with acoustic stimuli of female human speech and a dog’s bark. Dogs showed evidence of both con- and heterospecific intermodal matching, while infants’ looking preferences indicated effective auditory–visual matching only when presented with the audio and visual stimuli of the non-conspecifics. The results of the present study provided further evidence that domestic dogs and human infants have similar socio-cognitive skills and highlighted the importance of comparative examinations on intermodal perception. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Intraspecific Motor and Emotional Alignment in Dogs and Wolves: The Basic Building Blocks of Dog–Human Affective Connectedness
Animals 2020, 10(2), 241; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020241 - 03 Feb 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1375
Abstract
Involuntary synchronization occurs when individuals perform the same motor action patterns during a very short time lapse. This phenomenon serves an important adaptive value for animals permitting them to socially align with group fellows thus increasing integration and fitness benefits. Rapid mimicry (RM) [...] Read more.
Involuntary synchronization occurs when individuals perform the same motor action patterns during a very short time lapse. This phenomenon serves an important adaptive value for animals permitting them to socially align with group fellows thus increasing integration and fitness benefits. Rapid mimicry (RM) and yawn contagion (YC) are two behavioral processes intermingled in the animal synchronization domain. Several studies demonstrated that RM and YC are socially modulated being more frequently performed by individuals sharing close relationships. This evidence highlights the relation between RM/YC and emotional contagion that is the capacity of two or more individuals to share the same affective state. In this review, we try to delineate a possible developmental trajectory of emotional sharing phenomena by using, as a model species, the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), a valid example of empathic predisposition towards individuals belonging both to the same and the different species. We contrast available findings on RM and YC in dog–dog and dog–human dyads with those in wolf–wolf dyads, in order to investigate if the ability to emotionally engage with conspecifics (wolf–wolf and dog–dog) is evolutionary rooted in canids and if provides the basis for the development of inter-specific emotional sharing (dog–human). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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Open AccessReview
Inter- and Intra-Species Communication of Emotion: Chemosignals as the Neglected Medium
Animals 2019, 9(11), 887; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110887 - 31 Oct 2019
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 2496
Abstract
Human body odors contain chemosignals that make species-specific communication possible. Such communication is without communicative intent and is generally below the threshold of consciousness. Human recipients of these chemosignals produced during emotional conditions display a simulacrum of the emotional state under which the [...] Read more.
Human body odors contain chemosignals that make species-specific communication possible. Such communication is without communicative intent and is generally below the threshold of consciousness. Human recipients of these chemosignals produced during emotional conditions display a simulacrum of the emotional state under which the chemosignal was produced. The investigation of an inter-species transfer of emotions via chemosignals was initiated by considerations of the historically anchored interdependence between humans and domesticated species, such as dogs and horses. Indeed, experiments with dogs have demonstrated that human body odors produced under emotional conditions of happiness and fear led dogs to manifest corresponding emotions to those experienced by humans. Preliminary data from horses also show that human body odors collected under fear and happiness conditions activate the autonomic nervous system of horses differentially. These studies indicate the possibility of a road to open our understanding of inter-species emotional communication via chemosignals. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mutual Recognition of Emotions in the Human-Animal Relationship)
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