Jardat, P., Calandreau, L., Ferreira, V. et al. 2022. Pet-directed speech improves horses' attention toward humans. Scientific Reports 12(1), 4297.
In a recent experiment, we showed that horses are sensitive to pet-directed speech (PDS), a kind of speech used to talk to companion animals that is characterized by high pitch and wide pitch variations. When talked to in PDS rather than adult-directed speech (ADS), horses reacted more favorably during grooming and in a pointing task. However, the mechanism behind their response remains unclear: does PDS draw horses’ attention and arouse them, or does it make their emotional state more positive? In this study, we used an innovative paradigm in which female horses watched videos of humans speaking in PDS or ADS to better understand this phenomenon. Horses reacted differently to the videos of PDS and ADS: they were significantly more attentive and their heart rates increased significantly more during PDS than during ADS. We found no difference in the expressions of negative or positive emotional states during PDS and ADS videos. Thus, we confirm that horses’ perception of humans can be studied by means of video projections, and we conclude that PDS attracts attention and has an arousing effect in horses, with consequences on the use of PDS in daily interactions with them.