A study shows that cattle are more relaxed when hearing the natural human voice than from recordings
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to adapt to new online communication that helps us keep in touch. But despite being a useful alternative, most humans still prefer face-to-face communication. Well, the same thing happens to cows, who respond much better to messages that come to them live than when they are recorded.
This is the unique conclusion of a study carried out by a group of researchers from the University of Vienna and Linz, in Austria. Their research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, shows that cows are more relaxed when a live human speaks to them directly than when they hear the recorded voice through a speaker.
“Cattle like to be stroked while talking softly to them,” explains veterinarian Annika Lange of the University of Veterinary Medicine, lead author of the study.
Sometimes, in scientific experimentation contexts, recordings of a human voice speaking softly are used to relax the animals. In these cases, the conditions are very similar in each trial, as there is a situation of “standardization“, an important principle of scientific experimentation.
However, the team of Austrian scientists wanted to find out if cows respond differently to the sound of recorded voices compared to a human speaking directly to them.
“Our study suggests that speaking live is more relaxing for our animals than a recording of a human voice,” says Lange. “Interactions can be less positive when they become artificial through standardization.”
To reach this conclusion, the team has worked with 28 head of cattle, comparing the benefits of stroking the animals while playing a recording of an experimenter’s voice, or stroking them while speaking directly to them.
After monitoring the animals’ responses during the experiments, they found that talking live improved the mood of bovines.
In the study, they found that heart rate variability was higher when talking directly to the cows, indicating that they were having a better time. The heart rate is lower when listening to a recording, which shows that the animals were more relaxed after the live chat.
When cows relax and enjoy the interaction, the animals will often stretch their necks as they do when grooming each other. “In addition, it is believed that ear positions can indicate mood: hanging ears and low ear positions seem to be related to relaxation,” Lange explains.
The authors concluded that stroking, accompanied by a human voice, actually pleases cows and can relax them, and both a direct conversation and its recording are suitable. At the same time, a personal conversation with a cow seems to have a more lasting effect: judging by the reduced heart rate, it relaxes better.