Humans as well as many animal species reveal their emotional state in their voice. Vocal features show strikingly similar correlation patterns with emotional states across mammalian species, suggesting that the vocal expression of emotion follows highly conserved signalling rules. To fully understand the principles of emotional signalling in mammals it is, however, necessary to also account for any inconsistencies in the way that they are acoustically encoded. Here we investigate whether the expression of emotions differs between call types produced by the same species. We compare the acoustic structure of two common piglet calls—the scream (a distress call) and the grunt (a contact call)—across three levels of arousal in a negative situation. We find that while the central frequency of calls increases with arousal in both call types, the amplitude and tonal quality (harmonic-to-noise ratio) show contrasting patterns: as arousal increased, the intensity also increased in screams, but not in grunts, while the harmonicity increased in screams but decreased in grunts. Our results suggest that the expression of arousal depends on the function and acoustic specificity of the call type. The fact that more vocal features varied with arousal in scream calls than in grunts is consistent with the idea that distress calls have evolved to convey information about emotional arousal.
Linhart P, Ratcliffe VF, Reby D, Špinka M (2015) Expression of Emotional Arousal in Two Different Piglet Call Types. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0135414. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0135414