This story is from the category Augmenting Organics
Date posted: 06/11/2009
Pet owners and scientists who spend a lot of time in the wild say that they can tell when an animal is upset by the sound of its voice. Now new analyses of animal calls may offer an explanation; humans seem to express frustration in the same way as other mammals.
At a recent meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, several groups of scientists presented evidence that humans, bats, elephants and shrews all speak faster and with a higher pitch when stressed. Along with other studies of primates, marmots and rats, the findings suggest that humans inherited the way we communicate when feeling anxious from animal ancestors that lived millions of years ago.
Studying animal emotions can be a challenge because unlike humans, animals cannot describe their emotions -- at least, not to us. Unable to interview animals, scientists look instead for signs of emotion through visible behaviors and in the ways they communicate.
"We're obviously at a disadvantage when studying non-humans," said Michael Owren of Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Some emotional behaviors seem to be uniquely human. Monkeys shed tears to keep their eyes clean, but only Homo sapiens weep during distressing situations.
Laughter, on the other hand, is a way of communicating emotion shared by both humans and monkeys, something that Charles Darwin wrote about more than a century ago. He catalogued hundreds of facials expressions used by people and animals and noticed that monkeys -- like humans -- wrinkle their cheeks and grin with bright eyes when they laugh.
"We may confidently believe that laughter, as a sign of pleasure or enjoyment, was practiced by our progenitors long before they deserved to be called human," wrote Darwin, who believed that human beings inherited some of our emotions from our animal ancestors.
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