Cats know when you're talking to them
1st November, 2022
Most cats won’t always come when they are called. That streak of independence is part of their charm! But a new study shows that they do know when their owners are talking directly to them.
The tone of human speech tends to vary depending on who we are talking to. We talk to cats and dogs in a similar way we talk to young children, with a higher pitch and a more melodic tone.
But while the way in which dogs respond to dog-directed speech has been the subject of much study, less is known about how cats perceive and respond to cat-directed speech.
In a new study published in the journal Animal Cognition, researchers in France investigated how 16 cats reacted to pre-recorded voices from both their owner and that of a stranger when saying phrases in cat-directed and human adult-directed tones.
The study focused on three conditions, with the first condition changing the voice of the speaker from a stranger’s voice to the cat’s owner. The second and third conditions changed the tone used (cat-directed or adult-directed) for the cat’s owner or a stranger’s voice, respectively. The authors recorded and rated the cats’ responses to the audio, checking for behaviours such as resting, ear moving, pupil dilation and tail moving.
For a majority of the cats, their responses increased when hearing their owner’s voice and when hearing the cat-directed tone from their owner. Similar responses were not seen when a stranger was speaking in an adult-directed and cat-directed tone.
These findings suggest that cats can discriminate their owner’s voice from that of a stranger, and can distinguish when their owner is talking in a cat-directed tone.
Charlotte de Mouzon, lead author of the study, told The Guardian: “For a long time it has been thought that cats are very independent creatures, only interested in [humans for] eating and shelter, but the fact that they react specifically to their owner, and not just anybody addressing them, supports the idea that they are attached.
“It brings further evidence to encourage humans to consider cats as sensitive and communicative individuals.”
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