Pigs are sensitive to harmonious melodies

SENSITIVITY. Like humans, pigs have very different reactions depending on whether they hear discordant or harmonious music. This amazing ability is an additional faculty in an animal that does not lack it. “Pigs are able to tell the difference between a familiar man and a stranger, and between objects based on visual, auditory, and olfactory cues. In addition, they have a hearing sensitivity similar to that of primates, as they are able to distinguish melodies of different frequencies. write the authors in a report of their experiment carried out on the experimental farm of the University of Antioquia (Colombia) and which has just been published Scientific Report.

The team formed by researchers from the University of Calgary (Canada) and Antioquia benefited from the musical talents of Berardo de Jesus Rodriguez, a veterinarian who is also a composer who provided 16 pieces, some of them harmonious “like a pop hit”, the others dissonant. These three to five minute pieces were subjected alternately to six groups of ten to twelve piglets with three minute intervals between each piece. The animals’ reactions were filmed and studied using an approach called “quantitative behavioral assessment” (QBA, quantitative behavioral assessment) which consists of recognizing about twenty emotional parameters. Positive behaviors include active, fearless, calm, cheerful, playful, sociable, curious and tail wagging attitudes. Anxiety, aggressiveness, restlessness are among the attitudes Unequivocally, the researchers found radically different attitudes in the ten groups, depending on whether the animals heard harmonious or dissonant sounds.Music softens morale even for pigs.

The difficult assessment of animals’ emotions

SUBJECTIVITY. The study is interesting because there are few on this subjectcomments Céline Tallet, researcher at UMR “Physiology, environment and genetics for animals and breeding systems” (PEGASE, INRAE ​​Rennes). However, many breeders play music in their buildings because they empirically observe that their pigs feel better.”. The use of the QBA may suggest that observers have some subjectivity in the interpretation of behavior. Thus, a December 2020 Chinese study carefully avoids the term emotion to characterize a musical influence on pigs. The experiment involved subjecting 144 piglets separated into three groups to slow or fast music with no sound. The only criteria of playing and wagging the tail were kept. And a clear difference was found for pigs listening to music. “The QBA is, however, a robust method applied almost all over the world and which is recognized by ethology”. defends Céline Tallet.

Chance of science news, the same magazine Scientific Report published on March 7, 2022 a joint work by INRAE, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) on the translation of pig vocalizations. “The idea is to gather all the recordings of the pigs’ cries and their meanings observed by scientists to constitute an important database that allows, thanks to the use of artificial intelligence, to immediately link a cry to a message. , summarizes Céline Tallet, co-author of the article.

Better understand the animal to improve its well-being

7400 screams, grunts and squeals were collected from 411 pigs in different conditions, from birth to the slaughterhouse, passing through the different stages of their life and according to the rearing conditions (on the ground or in the straw). The bioacoustics and ethologists involved in this work carried out a detailed analysis of the acoustic structure of vocalizations and associated them with the context in which they were emitted. They can be positive emotions (breastfeeding, reunion with peers) or negative emotions (fights, isolation). Artificial intelligence allowed more than 90% accuracy in recognizing and interpreting vocalizations.

The work on music and vocalizations has the same goal: animal welfare. The Colombian and Canadian researchers hope that their work will lead to the creation of songs specifically designed for pig listening that would be played in cattle sheds. “ The immediate translation of a vocalization should allow the breeder to understand what the animal is feeling and respond immediately to its need or suffering.” adds Céline Tallet. An animal with so many talents deserves the concern of humans for its well-being throughout its short life.

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