Utilizing vocalizations to gain insight into the affective states of non-human mammals

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Whitham,Jessica C., Miller,Lance J.
Frontiers in Veterinary Science
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This review discusses how welfare scientists can examine vocalizations to gain insight into the affective states of individual animals. In recent years, researchers working in professionally managed settings have recognized the value of monitoring the types, rates, and acoustic structures of calls, which may reflect various aspects of welfare. Fortunately, recent technological advances in the field of bioacoustics allow for vocal activity to be recorded with microphones, hydrophones, and animal-attached devices (e.g., collars), as well as automated call recognition. We consider how vocal behavior can be used as an indicator of affective state, with particular interest in the valence of emotions. While most studies have investigated vocal activity produced in negative contexts (e.g., experiencing pain, social isolation, environmental disturbances), we highlight vocalizations that express positive affective states. For instance, some species produce vocalizations while foraging, playing, engaging in grooming, or interacting affiliatively with conspecifics. This review provides an overview of the evidence that exists for the construct validity of vocal indicators of affective state in non-human mammals. Furthermore, we discuss non-invasive methods that can be utilized to investigate vocal behavior, as well as potential limitations to this line of research. In the future, welfare scientists should attempt to identify reliable, valid species-specific calls that reflect emotional valence, which may be possible by adopting a dimensional approach. The dimensional approach considers both arousal and valence by comparing vocalizations emitted in negative and positive contexts. Ultimately, acoustic activity can be tracked continuously to detect shifts in welfare status or to evaluate the impact of animal transfers, introductions, and changes to the husbandry routine or environment. We encourage welfare scientists to expand their welfare monitoring toolkits by combining vocal activity with other behavioral measures and physiological biomarkers.


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