Your cat is very familiar with the way you speak to them with your “cat talk” and will often dismiss strangers when they try to do the same, a new study has found. Also, they won’t pay attention when you’re talking to other people.
The science and other staff to know
A study published in the journal Animal Cognition shows cats potentially alter their behavior when they hear their owner’s voice speaking in a tone directed to them. This study, which involved 16 cats — nine male and seven female — adds to the evidence that some cats can form strong bonds with their owners.
In the study, Charlotte de Mouzon and colleagues from Université Paris Nanterre in France investigated how the cats reacted to pre-recorded voices, which included their owner’s and a stranger’s voice. In the recordings, the speakers used phrases both in a “cat tone” and a human adult-directed tone. The team then investigated the cat’s behavior intensity — including resting, ear moving, pupil dilation, tail moving, and more — as they reacted to the voices.
In the first condition, the team changed the audio from a stranger’s voice to the cat’s owner. And 10 of the 16 cats showed a decrease in behavior intensity when they heard three audio clips of a stranger’s voice calling. But when the cats heard their owner’s voice saying their names, the behavior intensity significantly increased. The study noted that this “sudden rebound in behavior” shows cats can discriminate their owner’s voice from a stranger’s voice.
In the second scenario, researchers changed the tone to adult-directed speech. Ten cats (eight of which were the same ones from the first condition) decreased their behavior when they heard audio of their owner speaking in more of an adult-directed tone. But when the voice changed to a “cat tone”, their behavior increased.
It’s no doubt most cat owners intuitively feel their pets pick up on verbal cues and can distinguish their voices from that of strangers. But this study presents real evidence that “cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans”.
While the researchers admitted the study might not apply to all cats due to the sample size, they said future research could see if these findings can be replicated in felines that are more used to having strangers around.
Previous research has shown that cats know the names of other felines in their neighborhood. While the experts are confident they have shown cats do have a knack for names, they don’t yet know how they learn them. In similar studies, scientists have found that dogs can also identify and respond to “dog talk”, even when it’s uttered by strangers.