You talkin’ to me? Cats can recognize when their owners are speaking directly to them, and they give off definitive behavioral signs when that happens. This, according to a new study testing cats’ reactions to (1) owners speaking to other humans, (2) strangers speaking, and (3) owners speaking directly to their cats.
Researchers studied how 16 cats reacted to pre-recorded voices from both their owner and that of a stranger when saying phrases in cat-directed and human adult-directed tones. The researchers investigated three conditions, with the first condition changing the voice of the speaker from a stranger’s voice to the cat’s owner. The second and third conditions changed the tone used (cat-directed or human-directed) for the cat’s owner or a stranger’s voice, respectively. The researchers recorded and rated the behavior intensity of cats reacting to the audio, checking for behaviors such as resting, ear moving, pupil dilation, and tail moving, amongst others.
Discriminating their owner’s voice from stranger’s voice: In the first condition, 10 out of the 16 cats showed a decrease in behavior intensity as they heard three audio clips of a stranger’s voice calling them by their name. However, when hearing their owner’s voice, their behavior intensity significantly increased again. The cats displayed behaviors such as turning their ears to the speakers, increased movement around the room, and pupil dilation when hearing their owners’ voice.
In the second condition, 10 cats (8 of which were the same from the first condition) decreased their behavior as they heard audio from their owner in an adult human-directed tone but significantly increased their behavior when hearing the cat-directed tone from their owner. (The change in behavior intensity was not found in the third condition, when a stranger was speaking in an adult human-directed and cat-directed tone.)
Cat-owners have always know this: Cats know when their owners are speaking to them and they respond with unmistakable behavioral reactions.
Journal reference: e Mouzon, C., Gonthier, M. & Leboucher, G. Discrimination of cat-directed speech from human-directed speech in a population of indoor companion cats (Felis catus). Animal Cognition Journal (2022). summary | Study: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w