Leliveld, L. M. C., Düpjan, S., Tuchscherer, A. et al. 2017. Vocal correlates of emotional reactivity within and across contexts in domestic pigs (Sus scrofa). Physiology & Behavior 181, 117-126.
Vocalizations have long been recognized to encode information about an individual's emotional state and, as such, have contributed to the study of emotions in animals. However, the potential of vocalizations to also encode information about an individual's emotional reactivity has received much less attention. In this study, we aimed to test whether the vocalizations of domestic pigs contain correlates of emotional reactivity that are consistent between different contexts. We recorded vocalizations of 120 young female pigs in an experimental arena in two consecutive recording contexts, social isolation and an encounter with a familiar human. Simultaneously, we measured their heart rate and behaviour to determine their emotional reactivity in the same context (within-context). In addition, we aimed to determine the subjects' emotional reactivity in other contexts (across-context) by measuring their behaviour in four common tests of emotional reactivity, the human approach test, the open door test, the open field test and the novel object test. Using a cluster analysis, we identified four different call types. Significant inter-context correlations were found for all call types, suggesting that pig vocalizations are consistent within an individual across contexts. The call rate and the proportions of the individual call types were found to correlate significantly with indices of emotional reactivity both within and across contexts. Thereby, we found more significant correlations to indices of emotional reactivity within context (behavioural and physiological response during recording) compared to across context (behavioural response in the four emotional reactivity tests). The consistency of the vocal correlates to emotional reactivity between the different contexts depended on the call type. While we found moderate evidence that the high grunt is indicative of more active, more explorative and less fearful individuals both within as well as across contexts, the other call types provided less consistent results. Thus, it seems that some call types are better suited to provide information on a caller's emotional reactivity than others, and further research is needed to clarify the underlying influential factors.