Humans can identify reward-related call types of chickens

Nicky McGrath, Clive J. C. Phillips, Oliver H. P. Burman, Cathy M. Dwyer, Joerg Henning*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Humans can decode emotional information from vocalizations of animals. However, little is known if these interpretations relate to the ability of humans to identify if calls were made in a rewarded or non-rewarded context. We tested whether humans could identify calls made by chickens (Gallus gallus) in these contexts, and whether demographic factors or experience with chickens affected their correct identification context and the ratings of perceived positive and negative emotions (valence) and excitement (arousal) of chickens. Participants (n = 194) listened to eight calls when chickens were anticipating a reward, and eight calls in non-rewarded contexts, and indicated whether the vocalizing chicken was experiencing pleasure/displeasure, and high/low excitement, using visual analogue scales. Sixty-nine per cent of participants correctly assigned reward and non-reward calls to their respective categories. Participants performed better at categorizing reward-related calls, with 71% of reward calls classified correctly, compared with 67% of non-reward calls. Older people were less accurate in context identification. Older people's ratings of the excitement or arousal levels of reward-related calls were higher than younger people's ratings, while older people rated non-reward calls as representing higher positive emotions or pleasure (higher valence) compared to ratings made by younger people. Our study strengthens evidence that humans perceive emotions across different taxa, and that specific acoustic cues may embody a homologous signalling system among vertebrates. Importantly, humans could identify reward-related calls, and this ability could enhance the management of farmed chickens to improve their welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Article number231284
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
Early online date3 Jan 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - Jan 2024


  • human
  • vocalization
  • reward
  • chicken


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