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Do Animals Perceive Human Developmental Disabilities? Guinea Pigs’ Behaviour with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development. A Pilot Study

Abstract : Some cues used by humans and animals during human-animal interactions may have significant effects, modulating these interactions (e.g., gaze direction, heart rate). This study aimed to determine whether an animal in human-animal interactions is capable of "perceiving" its human partner's potential developmental "disabilities". To test this hypothesis, we studied guinea pigs (GP) behaviours in the presence of 44 6-to-12-year-old children with either typical development (TD children) or with autism spectrum disorders (ASD children). Thus, we recorded the GP behaviours during the entire session (to establish their time budget) and focused in particular on the onset and end of physical interactions. The GP behaviours (e.g., feeding, resting, self-grooming, exploring) were not significantly different between the two groups of children during the whole session. GP behaviours in the presence of children differed slightly when encountering ASD children versus TD children: more positive behaviours toward ASD children at the onset, more feeding and resting in the presence of TD children toward the end of an interaction. TD children showed longer-lasting interactions. One could explain this by GP curiosity toward ASD children behaviours (e.g., no marked behaviours such as attempts to touch), whereas GPs seemed calmer at the end with TD children (i.e., interacting with ASD children may be a little stressful). This partly gave support to our study's hypothesis. GPs seemed to perceive developmental disabilities during a first encounter with children and to adjust their behaviours to that of children. We discuss the issues of animal training, animals' well-being and acute stress, whether they are pets or used in animal-assisted interventions. Further studies (on pets or animal-assisted interventions) are warranted.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 11:20:38 AM
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Marine Grandgeorge, Elodie Dubois, Zarrin Alavi, Yannig Bourreau, Martine Hausberger. Do Animals Perceive Human Developmental Disabilities? Guinea Pigs’ Behaviour with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development. A Pilot Study. Animals, MDPI, 2019, 9 (8), pp.522. ⟨10.3390/ani9080522⟩. ⟨hal-02268026⟩

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