Ermatinger, F. A., Brügger, R. K., Burkart, J. M. 2019. The use of infrared thermography to investigate emotions in common marmosets. Physiology & Behavior 211, 112672.
Measuring body surface temperature changes with infrared thermography has recently been put forward as a non-invasive alternative measure of physiological correlates of emotional reactions. In particular, the nasal region seems to be highly sensitive to emotional reactions. Several studies suggest that nasal temperature is negatively correlated with the level of arousal in humans and other primates, but some studies provide inconsistent results. Our goal was to establish the use of infrared thermography to quantify emotional reactions in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), with a focus on the nasal region. To do so we exposed 17 common marmosets to a set of positive, negative and control stimuli (positive: preferred food, playback of food calls; negative: playback of aggressive vocalizations, teasing; control: no stimulus). We compared nasal temperature before and after the stimuli and expected that highly aroused emotional states would lead to a drop in nasal temperature. To validate the thermography measure, we coded piloerection of the tail as an independent measure of arousal and expected a negative correlation between the two measures. Finally, we coded physical activity to exclude its potential confounding impact on nasal temperature. Our results show that all predictions were met: the animals showed a strong decrease in nasal temperature after the presentation of negative arousing stimuli (teasing, playback of aggressive vocalizations). Furthermore, these changes in nasal temperature were correlated with piloerection of the tail and could not be explained by changes in physical activity. In the positive and the control conditions, we found systematic sex differences: in males, the preferred food, the playbacks of food calls, as well as the control stimulus led to an increase in nasal temperature, whereas in females the temperature remained stable (preferred food, control) or decreased (playback of food calls). Based on naturalistic observations that document higher food motivation and competition among female marmosets, as well as stronger reactions to separation from group members in male marmosets, these sex differences corroborate a negative correlation between arousal and nasal temperature. Overall, our results support that measuring nasal temperature by infrared thermography is a promising method to quantify emotional arousal in common marmosets in a fully non-invasive and highly objective way.