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While much research is devoted to the cognitive abilities and intelligence of dogs (Canis familiaris), pays very little attention to cats (Felis catus). Often thought of as independent or unruly compared to dogs, cats nevertheless form deep bonds with their owners. This is according to a small study published in the journal Getting to know petsThey would distinguish not only the voice of their masters from the voice of a stranger, but also when these persons are addressed especially to them and to no one else. One might then think that the human-cat relationship has its own “language”, but unfortunately, cats sometimes choose to ignore us when they realize we’re talking to them…
When addressing someone, we tend to change our tone depending on the person or subject of the request. Out of love and affection for them, it is common for us to cuddle our pets, even if it means talking to them like a baby. While dogs often respond easily to their masters or a simple loving gesture, this is not necessarily the case with cats. Indeed, previous studies have shown that even when they recognize the voice of their masters, they sometimes tend to deliberately ignore themat least when they are not interested in the subject of the challenge.
Their appearance and listless behavior when trying to get their attention would be the result of “incomplete” domestication, which occurred later than that of dogs, according to scientists. Some experts also believe that cats “domesticated”, probably to adapt to living with humans in order to gain food and privileges.
On the other hand, in ethology, the concept of animal intelligence is increasingly deepened, due to the behavior observed in pets – which sometimes exceeds our expectations and above all our understanding. Due to their “strong natures”, one could think in this sense that cats obey their masters only because they want to and not because they have been trained.
This “indomitable” side probably explains the lack of studies devoted to cats, whose reactions to experiments are probably difficult to analyze. The new study, led by researchers at the University of Paris Nanterre, only includes fewer than 20 cats, but already offers insight into the subtleties of human-cat relationships. While it has been concretely proven that our cats can recognize our voice, less is known about how they respond to it.
In the new study, researchers subjected 16 cats to three different conditions where they had them listen to voice recordings. The first changed the speaker’s voice to sound like their owner’s voice. The second was a change in the tone in which the owners address someone else (an adult) or the cat. And the third was to change the pitch of a stranger’s voice when talking to a person or a cat. Changes in the cats’ behavior were then assessed based on changes in their resting state, ear movements, pupil dilation and tail movements.
In the first condition, 10 test cats showed a reduced response to hearing three voice recordings of a stranger’s voice calling them by name. However, listening to their owners’ voices significantly increased their change in behavior and physical responses. These results suggest that cats can distinguish their owners’ voices from a stranger’s voice quite easily.
When the cats were subjected to a second experimental condition, they showed a significant decrease in interest when their owners’ tone indicated that the messages were not directed at them. On the other hand, there was a revival of interest when the tone suggested that the owners were speaking specifically to them. Additionally, they ignored the strangers, although they changed their tone to address the cats specifically.
However, it should be borne in mind that these results refer to only 16 individuals and therefore may not fully explain all the subtleties of the behavior of these felines. As a next step, the researchers are thinking of repeating the experiment by selecting cats that are more socialized and used to being around other people besides their owners.