A study by Japanese scientists shows that cats are able to recognize their name among other phonetically similar words. But they prefer to ignore us…
Cats recognize their name but don’t necessarily want to show it to us: this is the conclusion of a study published in the scientific journal Scientific reports in 2019. “Unlike dogs, the domestic cat’s ability to communicate with humans has not been extensively studied,” say researchers from the University of Tokyo. To fill this gap, the Japanese Atsuko Saito and her team conducted a series of experiments on 78 domestic cats (Felis catus) and others who live in cat bars.
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They used the so-called method “habituation-dishabituation” : they transmit to the cats the voice recording of five words, read by their master or by a stranger. The first four words had the same length and rhythm as the cat’s name, which served as the fifth word.
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However, researchers explain that cats would not necessarily be aware that it is their name, but rather react to a sound that they are used to hearing and that they have associated with a reward (petting, food).
By their master or a stranger
The researchers examined the animals’ reactions (movements of the head, ears, tail, etc.) to reading this list. And although the cats expressed no interest in the first four words, most of them responded – sometimes very subtly – to hearing their name. And it does not matter whether it is spoken by their master or by a stranger.
Small nuance though for felines living in cat bars who are less sensitive to their name than the others. This can be explained by the fact that many people pass by this place and that many different cat names are pronounced, making it more complicated to identify them.
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For researchers, “cats can discriminate the content of human expressions based on phonemic differences”. So if they are able to recognize their name, why don’t they always respond when called? Simply because they chose to ignore us, Atsuko Saito replied to the International Science Magazine The New Scientist : “Cats are not made to respond to human signals. They will communicate with humans when they want to. »
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