Further information on ISAZ Conference 2023 poster

"Can we recognize emotions of tigers, monkeys and goats?"

We got in a total of 1127 answers from visitors to the Helsinki Zoo

  • 445 answers in the summer of 2021 
  • 670 in the summer of 2022

We used the t-test and the Linear regression model in R

  • Paired Two Sample for Means; t = -10.53 df=5400, p<0.00001
  • Valence: F-test: F=148.9 df=2, p<0.0001; Linear regression model: lm(formula = valence_error ~ collection + species, data=datacomplete)
  • Arousal F-test: F=196.9 df=2, p<0.0001; Linear regression model: lm(formula = arousal_error ~ collection + species, data=datacomplete)


Example video
Emtions in the video

Barbary macaque: Negative. Rather high arousal

The situation is typically social – monkeys’ life revolves around the dynamic interactions in the group. In this situation the central monkey is signalling her dominant position to the younger female on her side with a ritualized threat signal ‘hoo’ with her mouth, raised eyebrows and squinted eyes; ears are flat on the head. The body is elevated in preparation for escalation, in which case she would direct active aggression to the female.

Markhor: Negative. Slightly high arousal

The markhor drives another markhor away from newly arrived fresh grass, by using a mildly threatening gesture. The gesture consists of lowering the head so that the horns point towards the other animal, and then slightly swinging the head upwards so that the forehead is what moves towards the other animal, not the horns; in other words, this is a symbolic gesture and not an attempt to hit the other animal with the horns.

Amur Tiger: Neutral. Relatively low arousal

The tiger is resting but observing the environment. The ears are near their default position, the eyes don’t open as much as they would in high-arousal facial expressions and blinking of the eyes is slow. The whiskers are in their default position. The body and front legs are relaxed.

Barbary macaque: Positive. Relatively aroused

The monkey is active with an enrichment object (the red canister) which contains seeds and nuts to eat. Active handling and searching for preferred food is pleasurable both because of the food itself and because using their brain and hands is rewarding. Her movements with the canister are active, implying she is keen to work on it. The body posture is active but not tense, ears and forehead are relaxed. The face makes no communicative expressions, implying that the monkey can fully focus on her pleasant activity.

Amur Tiger: Positive. High arousal

The tiger's attention is focused on the deer carcass suspended from the tree; the carcass is outside the video frame on the left, briefly visible at the beginning of the clip. The ears are open and pointed forward. The eyes have been opened more than in a relaxed position, but they are not round as in a fearful expression; instead, the eye shape is slightly triangular. The whiskers have been turned to point forward. The tail movements reach high and remain fluid even when the tail is low.


Biographical sketch

I am Laura Hiisivuori, a PhD Researcher in the Emotion Science project (University of Helsinki, Finland). My research covers animal welfare from an anthrozoology view: how humans can recognize and interpret animal emotions correctly. My current interests are people’s capacity to find “clues” of animal emotions (behaviour or expressions) and factors affecting them (i.e., gender, cultural background, empathy towards animals). The fundamental aim of this research is to improve domestic (and zoo) animals' welfare.

I am also a communication specialist, with expertise in scientific communication, strategic, crisis, value and internal communication, and leadership. I have education and practical used tools for non-violent communication and reconciliation of conflicts.

I have a long career at university communications and the Finnish Museum of Natural History. I have two MA degrees, first from biology (University of Helsinki) and second from service design (LAB University of Applied Sciences). In my future research, I hope that I can combine my skills from all fields from biology to communications and service design. 

Contact information

Laura Hiisivuori
PhD Researcher
The Doctoral Programme in Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences (DENVI)
Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Helsinki
Twitter @hiisivuo

Laura Hiisivuori in Research Portal

Laura Hiisivuori in the University of Helsinki People Finder


Filippi P, Congdon J.V, Hoang J., Bowling D, L., Reber S.A, Pašukonis A, Hoeschele M, Ocklenburg S, de Boer B, Sturdy C.B, Newen A, Güntürkün O. 2017 Humans recognize emotional arousal in vocalizations across all classes of terrestrial vertebrates: evidence for acoustic universals Proc. R. Soc. B. 2842017099020170990. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0990

Miralles, A., Raymond, M. & Lecointre, G. Empathy and compassion toward other species decrease with evolutionary divergence time. Sci Rep 9, 19555 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-56006-9