The famous scientist Charles Darwin, in his 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, described an evolved range of emotions that are innate in dogs, cats, chimpanzees, swans and other animals. Animals are unable to express their feelings verbally. This is why humans often misinterpret their feelings. Therefore, despite the good intentions of animals, humans treat them badly.
Humans humanize animals
On this subject, Claudia Washer, senior professor of animal and environmental biology at Anglia Ruskin University has expressed her concern. He wrote that we humanize animals. Human feelings and emotions begin to be seen in them. This affects our understanding of how they really feel.
How do animals understand emotions?
It is important to learn how animals understand emotions. Understanding why they are stressed or sad can explain how we can treat our pets with more compassion at zoos, marine life centers and farms, as well as in animal welfare. Poetically speaking, researchers have linked the animal’s heartbeat to its emotions. As detailed in my recent paper.
Detection of hidden behaviors in heart rate fluctuations
By measuring how animals ’heart rate fluctuate in response to different situations, we are getting closer to understanding how and when animals feel. In both humans and animals, an increase in emotional arousal from low to high can be measured by an increase in heart rate, which is measured in beats per minute (BPM). These measurements can be measured with heart rate belts, implanted transmitters, or artificial eggs, providing a rare opportunity to look at the emotional world of animals.
The whole secret is hidden in the heart
The heart rate of the animal increases rapidly in aggressive fights or encounters, and decreases during friendly activities such as petting. For example, in brown-legged goose, the average heart rate increases from 84 bpm to 157 bpm during aggressive activity. When swans communicate with a more dominant opponent, heart rate increases, indicating that swans are more emotionally agitated during a confrontation in which they are more likely to lose.
Most importantly, my research has shown that the goose’s heart rate increases more when an aggressive encounter occurs with their partner or family member than with a stranger. This suggests that gray geese are capable of emotional transition, this happens when one is affected by the feelings of another.
Linking dogs with owners
Similar effects have been observed in dogs and their owners. One study found that when dog owners had an increase in heart rate, their heart rate also increased, and this effect became stronger over time. This suggests that, despite belonging to different species, their emotional states are intertwined.
Animals recognize emotional expressions
Heart rate also provides a means to understand the cognitive abilities of animals. For example, chimpanzees have different heart rhythms depending on the type of images shown to them, aggressive, friendly or unfamiliar chimpanzees. This suggests that they recognize different emotional expressions.
The heartbeat can increase even without stimulation
Other studies have found that many species, such as goats, horses, cattle, and European starlings, show an increase in heart rate when they engage in a learning task, revealing that the task excites them emotionally. When animals do not express their feelings through any behavioral response, their heart rate does. For example, American black bears do not behave differently when drones fly over their heads, but scientists have found that the presence of drones increases their heart rate, suggesting that bears are upset, even and all if they are not showing it.
Heart rate control will help with maintenance
And this is the main reason why monitoring the heart rate of animals can help improve their maintenance. This allows us to know their stress. It can help pet owners understand when certain circumstances stress their pets and what they can do to reduce it.
For example, we know that many companion dogs are stressed by fireworks. Heart rate studies have found that the presence of a dog owner helps reduce this stress. Meanwhile, in dogs with kennels, a study showed that auditory and olfactory stimuli (playing music and smelling lavender) reduced heart rate, indicating a reduction in stress. The same can happen with zoo animals. And developing an understanding of how wild animals such as black bears react to human disturbance can help us reduce the impact of human activity on wildlife.
While heart rate helps us measure the level of emotional arousal in animals, it does not provide information on whether this emotional stimulus is positive or negative. We can only assume that the struggle is perceived negatively, and the courtship positively.
Still, we can use our heart rate to understand the emotion our pets are in certain situations. We can learn how they feel about different styles of music or different flavors of food. Whether domesticated or wild, the heartbeats of animals tell us about their feelings, what is needed is a sympathetic heart that understands them.