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Male mice and cows perceive human emotional chemosignals: a preliminary study

Abstract : Olfactory cues of individuals of the same species or from different species may induce changes in behaviors and physiological reactions in mammals. However, there are few studies on the influence of human odor on animal behavior and welfare, especially those of rodents and farm animals. The present study aimed to investigate whether the odor of a stressed human (in sweat) would modify the behavior of mice and cows. We hypothesized that laboratory and farm animals can perceive human emotions though olfactory cues and that human emotional chemosignals can modify their behavioral reactions and welfare. Two odors of human axillary sweat were collected from engineering students (n = 25, 14 females and 11 males; 21.1 ± 0.7 years old, range: 19-23 years old): a "stress" odor collected after an exam and a "non-stress" odor collected after a standard class. Two experiments were then conducted to test the discrimination of these two odors by male mice (n = 20) under standard conditions and by cows (n = 10) under farm conditions. During the experiments, the behavioral responses of the animals to both odors (through a dispenser for the mice and a bucket for the cows) were observed. The mice produced significantly (p = 0.004) more fecal pellets with the stress odor dispenser than with the non-stress-odor dispenser. The cows spent significantly (p = 0.04) more time smelling the non-stress-odor bucket than control. For both species, the other behaviors observed did not differ significantly between the odors. Mice and cows seemed to perceive and react to stressful human chemosignals. Mice showed physiological reactions that indicated stress in response to the stress odor of humans, while cows showed preference reactions in response to the non-stress odor of humans. This preliminary study showed that laboratory and farm animals, such as male mice and cows, seemed to discriminate certain odors emitted by humans that were likely related to different emotions. Animals may recognize stressful human chemosignals, associate these signals with negative husbandry practices or human-animal relationships, and consequently modify their behavior.
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Submitted on : Monday, May 3, 2021 - 4:57:27 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, May 6, 2021 - 4:54:06 PM

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Alexandra Destrez, Morgane Costes-Thiré, Anne-Sophie Viart, Floriane Prost, Bruno Patris, et al.. Male mice and cows perceive human emotional chemosignals: a preliminary study. Animal Cognition, Springer Verlag (Germany), 2021, pp.021-01511. ⟨10.1007/s10071-021-01511-6⟩. ⟨hal-03216060⟩

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