Cat and dog owners: arch enemies and best friends. I’m sure you’ve noticed that cat owners in particular stand by the fact that they believe their cats can understand everything we say to them.
Many remain skeptic, yet it turns out that they are quite capable of understanding exactly what it is we are saying, but they simply choose to ignore us.
I mean, they are cats after all!
Sophia University in Tokyo Japan has released a new study, published in Scientific Advances citing that cats may not understand the human language or conception of their name, they are able to pick out heir name from a string of words. The findings were “the first experimental evidence showing cats’ ability to understand human verbal utterances,” according to the research team.
Atsuko Saito, the lead author previously led a study in 2013, which found that cats are capable of also recognizing their owners’ voice and this led to the suspicion that cats were at least somewhat capable of understanding human vocalization – similarly to dolphins, dogs and parrots.
Saito told The Guardian:
“There are so many studies about dog ability to communicate with humans. We think it is important to show cats’ ability.”
In order to test this theory, Saito hand her team managed to gather 78 domestic house-cats from Japanese households and “cat-cafe’s”. They tested the theory by playing back a jumble of words and sounds spoken in a mono-tone voice with their own names, spoken amid the random words, to see whether it would elicit some sort of reaction from the felines.
The recordings were played back with reactions like ear twitches, tail flicks and the odd meow, until the cats grew familiar with the recordings, eventually ignoring it. With various nouns first spoken and eventually the cat’s name being mentioned.
The authors wrote:
“These cats discriminated their own names from general nouns even when unfamiliar persons uttered them … These results indicate that cats are able to discriminate their own names from other words.”
Interestingly, the household cats picked up only on their own names, but the cafe cats responded to not only heir own names, but that of their fellow residents from the same cafe.
“Cats understand human cues better than many people think,” Saito added.
The research suggests cats have paired the sound of their name with rewards like food and petting. pic.twitter.com/jH8ef74Ezp
— Dose (@dose) April 4, 2019
The study simultaneously noted that while it offered rudimentary evidence of the way in which cats process sound, the responses seem to be the result of conditioning.
The researchers wrote:
“Cats can discriminate words uttered by humans from other words—especially their own names, because a cat’s name is a salient stimulus as it may be the human utterance most frequently heard by domestic cats (cats kept by humans) and may be associated with rewards, such as food, petting, and play.”
While their studies merely scratch the surface on cat-human communication, researchers hope to eventually further understand how human words can develop a means to warn cats about dangers of certain places or objects and that their work can “potentially enhance the welfare of both humans and cats.”
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