Acoustic parameters of dog barks carry emotional information for humansPongrácz P, Molnár Cs & Miklósi Á
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2006, 100, 228-240
In an earlier study, we found that humans were able to categorize dog barks correctly, which were recorded in various situations. The acoustic parameters, like tonality, pitch and inter-bark time intervals, seemed to have a strong effect on how human listeners described the emotionality of these dog vocalisations. In this study, we investigated if the effect of the acoustic parameters of the dog bark is the same on the human listeners as we would expect it from studies in other mammalian species (for example, low, hoarse sounds indicating aggression; high pitched, tonal sounds indicating subordinance/ fear). People with different experience with dogs were asked to describe the emotional content of several artificially assembled bark sequences on the basis of five emotional states (aggressiveness, fear, despair, playfulness, happiness). The selection of the barks was based on low, medium and high values of tonality and peak frequency. For assembling artificial bark sequences, we used short, middle or long inter-bark intervals. We found that humans with different levels of experience with dogs described the emotional content of the bark sequences quite similarly, and the extent of previous experience with the given breed (Mudi), or with dogs in general, did not cause characteristic differences in the emotionality scores. The scoring of the emotional content of the bark sequences was in accordance with the so-called Morton's structural-acoustic rules. Thus, low pitched barks were described as aggressive, and tonal and high pitched barks were scored as either fearful or desperate, but always without aggressiveness. In general, tonality of the bark sequence had much less effect than the pitch of the sounds. We found also that the inter-bark intervals had a strong effect on the emotionality of dog barks for the human listeners: bark sequences with short inter-bark intervals were scored as aggressive, but bark sequences with longer inter-bark intervals were scored with low values of aggression. High pitched bark sequences with long inter-bark intervals were considered happy and playful, independently from their tonality. These findings show that dog barks function as predicted by the structural-motivational rules developed for acoustic signals in other species, suggesting that dog barks may present a functional system for communication at least in the dog-human relationship. In sum it seems that many types of different emotions can be expressed with the variation of at least three acoustic parameters.
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