First, we found out they do, indeed, have feelings for us, and now we know that cats recognise their names.
It’s gratifying to learn that science has proven that Mittens, Sushi, Whiskers and Oreo understand when you’re referring to them. Even if they don’t always do as they’re told.
Other mammals, like dogs, have already demonstrated – without a doubt – that they ‘get’ their names.
“I think many cat owners feel that cats know their names, or the word ‘food’,” but until now, there was no scientific evidence to back that up,” says Atsuko Saito, a psychologist at Sophia University in Tokyo, in Science News.
For their part, cats have remained aloof on the topic, leading many a cat carer to scratch their own head in confusion. They come when it serves them; they hide when it might not appeal. This is likely because “cats are sensitive to differences in human voice characteristics,” continues Atsuko.
She and her team recently studied a clowder of cats to find out if they knew their names and could differentiate between words. They recruited felines from nearby ‘cat cafes’ and households, and then published their findings in Scientific Report.
“For each cat, four different words were spoken to the cat via a recording of the researchers or owners talking, followed by its name,” writes Josh Gabbatiss in the Independent. “Recognition was defined as a noticeable response in which the animal moved its ears, head or tail, or made a noise. While most of the cats initially reacted to the words being spoken to them, their interest tapered off as the list was read. However, they tended to perk up as the scientist read out the final word – the animal’s name.”
Exciting! This demonstrates that cats can certainly recognise words, but (less exciting) not that they attach meaning to them. Unless there’s an incentive. “They are probably learning to associate the sound of their names either with something positive like food,” Josh continues, “or something negative such as an imminent trip to the vet.” That explains Daisy’s (in)convenient disappearance minutes before you must leave for the vet check-up. Sigh.
It also depends on context and connections. The study found that kitties from cat cafes were less able to discern their own name from others in the cafe. “This is probably because in these institutions, which can often house dozens of animals to entertain their patrons, the cats associated all of the names being called with familiar rewards or punishments.” That explains why Sushi comes when you call Pudding for his medication treat. More sighs.
If only science could explain why our cats sometimes choose to ignore us. Unfortunately, there aren’t studies to explain this one yet, but at least we know that they know we’re talking to them 😉.
We’d love to know what you call your cat(s). Their official names and the nicknames. And, maybe, how they respond to these names? Please share a post on our dedicated Facebook page for pets and their people. You never know, maybe your kitty’s name, or your felid observations, might just start trending…