Horses are sensitive to baby talk: pet-directed speech facilitates communication with humans

A new study provides evidence that human speech style can affect equine behavior and that pet-directed speech (aka “baby talk”) improves human-horse communication. Do you talk to your horse? If so, your speaking style matters, according to new research by Lea Lansade, PhD, and colleagues from Université de Tours in France.

Pet-directed speech (PDS) is a type of speech humans spontaneously use with their companion animals. It is very similar to speech commonly used when talking to babies. A survey on social media showed that 92.7% of the respondents used PDS with their horse, but only 44.4% thought that their horse was sensitive to it, and the others did not know or doubted its efficacy. We, therefore, decided to test the impact of PDS on two tasks.

Some results: PDS captures a horse’s attention and improves human-horse communication, research says.

  1. PDS was more effective at capturing the horses’ attention than ADS.
  2. Horses were more likely to follow a pointing gesture when the person spoke using PDS.

A similar attention-grabbing effect of ‘baby talk’ is seen in infants and dogs.

The Lansade study reviewed in this commentary has exploded on social media, which might reflect a growing interest in human-horse relationships and equine welfare. Lansade and colleagues at Université de Tours have published the following papers in the past year on emotions, communication, and human-horse interactions that might be of interest to the reader:

  • Horses feel emotions when they watch positive and negative horse-human interactions in a video and transpose what they saw to real life. Animal Cognition (2020)
  • Unwilling or willing but unable: can horses interpret human actions as goal directed? Animal Cognition (2020)

Source: The article on Springer link.

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