The famous scientist Charles Darwin in his 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals described an evolved range of innate emotions in dogs, cats, chimpanzees, swans and other animals. Animals are unable to verbally express their feelings. This is why humans often misinterpret their feelings. For this reason, despite the good intentions of animals, humans treat them badly.
Humans humanize animals
Claudia Washer, senior lecturer in animal and environmental biology at Anglia Ruskin University, expressed concern about this issue. He wrote that we humanize animals. Human feelings and emotions begin to be perceived in them. It affects our understanding of how they really feel.
How do animals understand emotions?
Learning how animals understand emotions is important. Understanding what they’re stressed out or sad about can explain how we can treat our pets more compassionately, as well as the welfare of animals in zoos, marine life centers, and farms. Poetically, the researchers linked the animal’s heart rate to its emotions. As detailed in my recent article.
Detect hidden behaviors in heart rate fluctuations
By measuring the fluctuation of the heartbeat of animals in response to different situations, we come one step closer to understanding how and when animals feel. In 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 peek into the emotional world of animals.
All the secret is hidden in the heart
The animal’s heart rate increases rapidly during fights or aggressive encounters, and decreases during friendly activities such as petting. For example, in the brown-legged goose, the average heart rate during aggressive activity drops from 84 bpm to 157 bpm. When swans communicate with a more dominant opponent, the heart rate increases, indicating that swans are more emotionally agitated during a confrontation in which they are more likely to lose.
Most notably, my research has shown that goose heart rate increases more during an aggressive encounter with a partner or family member than with a stranger. This suggests that greylag geese are capable of emotional transition – this happens when one is affected by the feelings of another.
Dogs’ relationship with owners
Similar effects have been seen in dogs and their owners. One study found that when dog owners had an increased heart rate, the dog’s heart rate also increased, and this effect became stronger over time. This suggests that despite being of different species, their emotional states are closely related.
Animals recognize emotional expressions
Heart rate also helps 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 chimps. This suggests that they recognize different emotional expressions.
Heart rate may increase even without stimulation
Other studies have shown that many species – for example goats, horses, cattle and European starlings – exhibit an increase in heart rate when engaging in a learning task, revealing that they are emotionally excited about the task. When animals do not express their feelings in any behavioral response, their heart rate does. For example, American black bears don’t behave differently when drones fly overhead, but scientists have found that the presence of drones increases their heart rate, suggesting bears are upset – even if they don’t. not show it.
Heart rate monitoring 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 shown that the presence of a dog owner helps reduce this stress. Meanwhile, in kennel dogs, a study showed that auditory and olfactory stimuli (playing music and smelling lavender) lowered their heart rate, indicating reduced stress. The same can be true for animals in zoos. And developing an understanding of how wild animals like black bears respond to human disturbance can help us reduce the impact of human activity on wildlife.
Although 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 fights are perceived negatively and seductions positively.
Nonetheless, we can use heart rate to understand how excited our pets are in certain situations. We can learn what they think about different styles of music or different flavors of food. Whether domesticated or wild, animal heartbeats speak to us about their feelings, what is needed is a sympathetic heart that can understand them.