Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ask A Guinea Pig: Can Guinea Pigs Sense Emotions?

Question: riordan77piglove asks: "can guinea pigs sense human emotions, like dogs?"

Answer: Great question!

Many humans seem to think so. Some of their comments include:
  • "Oh yes, I have found they certainly understand human emotion...also when one has died, they behave differently too. They are very intelligent and sensitive."
  • "I think they absolutely respond to our emotions. When I first got Elsa, and thought something was wrong with her, I started crying while I was holding her, and Miss Elsa crawled up and snuggled under my hair like she knew I felt bad and needed cheering."
  • "My girls know my moods. If I am down or depressed they snuggle more with me."
According to a poll of of TED community pet owners: "48.7% percent of you said that your pet has a good understanding of your emotions. And 71.5% of you said that your pet helps you through hard times often—with an additional 14.2% saying that there’s one major event in life that your pet helped you get through." We should point out that the poll respondents were mostly dog and cat owners, and only a handful had guinea pigs, however. Still, the poll fits with the aforementioned comments specifically from guinea pig owners.

There was also a scientific study that looked at how the brains of dogs responded to human emotion, which found: "It turns out that both species have an area of the brain that is tuned to the 'emotional valence' of a voice, meaning it responds more strongly to positive emotions than negative emotions. And for this region, it doesn’t matter whether the voice is human or canine; a burst of laughter is equivalent to a playful bark." The author argues "that because dogs and humans... have regions dedicated to processing voices, this skill probably dates back 100 million years, to the common ancestor of humans and dogs." Let's take a look at the chart of mammal evolution from the article:

You may notice that "Guinea Pig" is also listed on the chart (last entry under the brown "Rodentia" section) as sharing a common ancestor. The article states that if this "theory is correct, then all or most of those species also carry the voice-sensitive brain area." As far as we know, there have yet to be any equivalent studies on guinea pigs where scientists scan our brains while exposing us to human emotions. We should also point out that this scientific study was hearing-based, and some of the humans who felt guinea pigs could sense emotions claimed that we "can also tell how you're feeling by scent." Therefore, scientists might also want to consider having humans physically present when they study guinea pig emotions so it's not just restricted to hearing.

I'm sensing a human who loves me!
Or, they can just skip the scientific studies and ask us directly on this blog. Since you asked, we'll answer directly. Yes, we're sensing that you all feel a sense of incredible awe at our cuteness! (Did we get it right? We did, didn't we?)