Publication: Kune Kune piglets possess social learning skills and have an astonishingly good memorygutes Gedächtnis

Photo: Vetmeduni Vienna

Pigs are socially competent and capable of learning. But the combination of these two skills, i.e. learning by observing others, has been insufficiently studied so far. The exact copying and understanding of demonstrated actions – something that would indicate highly developed learning abilities – could not yet be proven. A new study with Kune Kune pigs conducted by cognitive researchers from the Messerli Research Institute of Vetmeduni Vienna, could now show for the first time that these animals do in fact learn from each other – in this case from their mother or their aunt. The intelligent animals also possess a remarkable long-term memory once they have internalized a technique. The results were published in the journal Animal Behaviour. Further information. 2


Publication Comparative Medicine: Comparing food allergies: Animals and humans may have more in common than you think


23.08.2017: People are not the only ones suffering from the symptoms and problems of food intolerance and allergies. Other mammals, such as cats, dogs and horses, are affected as well. The Messerli Research Institute, a cooperation between the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna, has now condensed the knowledge about human and animal food allergies and intolerances into a new European position paper. The paper highlights the strong similarities in animal and human symptoms and triggers of adverse food reactions. More importantly, the publication stresses the need for more comparative studies on the mechanisms and the diagnosis of food intolerance, and on formulating adequate measures.

Further information


Great success for CompMed-Team at EAACI 2017, Helsinki, Finland

The annual conference of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology belongs to the world´s largest events on allergy and had over 8300 attendants in Helsinki, June 17.-21, 2017. Comparative Medicine team contributed as speakers, chairs, poster presenters and in several working groups (Newsletter June 17 5).

This is the record of awards from the group in the 2017 EAACI meeting
·      Sherienne Afifi: JMA Travel scholarship
·      Jelena Gotovina: Prize for the best ePoster
·      Franziska Roth-Walter
·      Judit Fazekas-Singer, and
·      Galateja Joradkieva, poster prizes.

Congratulations to all!


Publication: Sensitivity to inequity is in wolves’ and dogs’ blood

Not only dogs but also wolves react to inequity – similar to humans or primates. This has been confirmed in a new study by comparative psychologists of the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. Wolves and dogs refused to cooperate in an experiment when only the partner got a treat or they themselves received a lower quality reward. Since this behaviour is equally strong in wolves and dogs, this sensitivity to inequity is not likely to be an effect of domestication, as has been assumed so far. It is rather a behaviour inherited from a common ancestor. The results were published in Current Biology.

More information


Publication: Human, Animals and Aristotle.

Full article can be read under the following Link 8.


Publication Dog Science: Dogs’ emotional life can be affected by emotional sounds from us and their own fellow

Dogs are able to express emotional contagion to negative emotional vocalizations of both humans and conspecifics, according to a study by cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. In this study, 53 dogs of different breeds and mongrels were tested in a comprehensive paradigm where the animals listened to playbacks differing in the following dimensions: “Emotionality” (non-emotional and emotional sounds), “Species” (human and dog sounds), and “Valence” (positive and negative emotional sounds). Dogs’ behavioural response differed between hearing non-emotional sounds of their everyday environment and emotional sounds of humans as well as conspecifics. It furthermore differed depending on whether these emotional sounds were positive or negative; with the latter triggering an emotional contagion response in the dogs. The study has been published in the journal Animal Cognition. Link 9


When perceiving emotional states in others, emotional contagion can be triggered in the observer. Emotional contagion is the phenomenon of one individual taking over the feeling of another individual, resulting in an emotional state-matching between both. This response can occur very quickly and automatically, without any conscious processing by the observer. Emotional contagion is considered to be the basic form of empathy; itself a multifaceted social phenomenon that has long been considered to be reserved for humans only. However, scientific studies increasingly discover empathetical responses also in different non-human animal species – a fundamental step towards advancing our knowledge on the complexity of animals’ emotional lives.  


Dogs are a species that deserve special attention when it comes to research on emotional contagion as they can form remarkably close social relationships to a different species – to us humans. Consequently, investigating emotional contagion in these animals provides the unique potential for addressing diverse research questions at once: Are dogs able to express emotional contagion at all? If so, is their emotional contagion response limited to their own species or can it even be expressed beyond that towards humans? Do we find a difference in this response depending on whether they perceive emotions from other dogs or humans? And, last but not least, does emotional contagion in dogs differ depending on whether the emotion they perceive is positive or negative?


In a study conducted at the Clever Dog Lab of the Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, cognitive biologists led by Prof. Ludwig Huber aimed to address these research questions for the first time all at once in a comprehensive experimental paradigm. Therefore, they used only sounds as stimuli to investigate whether dogs are able to differentiate (1) between non-emotional and emotional sounds, (2) between emotional human and dog sounds and (3) between positive and negative emotional sounds of both species. Furthermore, if dogs expressed behavioural indicators that indicate an emotional state-matching with the emotional sounds they heard, this would be a reasonable basis to suppose that the response is based on emotional contagion.  

On the basis of extensive behavior analyses, the researchers could show that the dogs’ response clearly differed depending on whether they heard non-emotional or emotional sounds. Focusing on the species from which the sound originated, the dogs showed a similar behavioural response, however, independent of whether the sound was positive or negative, when hearing emotional sounds of unfamiliar conspecifics, dogs expressed an increase in freezing – a behavior that has been related to emotional tension. Contrasting positive with negative emotional sounds of both species, the researchers discovered that dogs indeed differentiated between positive and negative emotional sounds when analyzing behavioural indicators of emotional states. Specifically, in response to negative emotional sounds, indicators related to negative emotional states were increasingly expressed by the dogs; this was not comparable for positive sounds. Consequently, as negative emotional sounds induced negative emotional states in the dogs, thus, an emotional state-matching, the researchers concluded that this response was based on emotional contagion.

The findings of this study provide an important contribution to research on empathy and emotional phenomena in non-human animals in general and dogs in specific. Furthermore, they reveal so far less considered potential effects on animal welfare what, not the least, addresses aspects of our ethical responsibility for non-human animals living in such close mutual relationship with us and under our direct care.


Publication Dog Science: You spy with your little eye

Humans are able to interpret the behaviour of others by attributing mental states to them (and to themselves). By adopting the perspectives of other persons, they can assume their emotions, needs and intentions and react accordingly. In the animal kingdom, the ability to attribute mental states (Theory of Mind) is a highly contentious issue. Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna could prove with a new test procedure that dogs are not only able to identify whether a human has an eye on a food source and, therefore, knows where the food has been hidden. They can also apply this knowledge in order to correctly interpret cues by humans and find food they cannot see themselves. This perspective taking ability is an important component of social intelligence. It helps dogs to cope with the human environment. The results have been published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Mehr dazu 10


Publication: Elephants know when their bodies are obstacles


Publication Kea Science: For This New Zealand Parrot, “Laughter” Is Contagious

When people are feeling playful, they giggle and laugh, making others around them want to laugh and play too. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on March 20 have found that the particularly playful kea parrot from New Zealand has a “play call” with a similarly powerful influence. When other kea hear that call, it puts them into a playful mood. The findings make kea the first known non-mammal to have such an “emotionally contagious” vocalization, the researchers say. Earlier studies had made similar findings for chimpanzees and rats.

More information 13


Information for Journalists


Jennifer Bentlage, MSc.

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