Human caretakers of cats have always known this and now it has been demonstrated scientifically: Cats recognize their names when called–but may choose to ignore it (possibly followed by an upwards tail flip and facial expression of ‘uh, you talkin’ to me?‘).
A new study indicates domestic cats do recognize their own names—even if they walk away when they hear them. Behavioral scientist Dr. Atsuko Saito, has previously shown that cats can recognize their owner’s voice. Now, in this latest study, which involved 78 cats from Japanese households and a “cat café,” she honed in on responses to hearing their names.
Researchers first had owners repeatedly say four words that sounded similar to their cats’ names until the animals habituated to those words and stopped responding. Next, the owners said the cats’ actual names, and researchers determined whether individual cats (when living among other cats) appeared able to distinguish their own monikers. The researchers also had people unfamiliar to the cats speak the cats’ names. Although the felines’ responses were less prominent to strangers saying their names than when their owners called them, they still appeared to recognize their names.
Study results overview
The cats had more pronounced responses to their own names—meowing or moving their ears, heads or tails—than to similar words or other cats’ names, according to the study, which was published in Scientific Reports.
The habituation-dishabituation method was used to investigate whether domestic cats could discriminate human utterances, which consisted of cats’ own names, general nouns, and other cohabiting cats’ names. Cats from ordinary households and from a ‘cat café’ participated in the experiments. Among cats from ordinary households, cats habituated to the serial presentation of four different general nouns or four names of cohabiting cats showed a significant rebound in response to the subsequent presentation of their own names; 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. There was no difference in discrimination of their own names from general nouns between cats from the cat café and household cats, but café cats did not discriminate their own names from other cohabiting cats’ names. We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances based on phonemic differences.
“Cats are just as good as dogs at learning. They’re just not as keen to show their owners what they’ve learned.” [Me-ooow]
-Dr. John Bradshaw, biologist, human-animal interactions at the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute
Journal Reference: Atsuko Saito, Kazutaka Shinozuka, Yuki Ito, Toshikazu Hasegawa. Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words,
Scientific Reports. 2019;9(1):1-8 DOI 10.1038/s41598-019-40616-4