A study performed on a cohort of 16 companion cats suggests that cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans; interestingly, this pattern of discrimination was found only when sentences were uttered by the cats’ owners.
Cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans. Image credit: D.L. JackieLou.
“In contemporary western cultures, most humans talk to their pet companions,” said Dr. Charlotte de Mouzon and colleagues from the Université Paris Nanterre and the EthoCat-Cat Behaviour Research and Consulting.
“Speech register addressed to companion animals shares common features with speech addressed to young children, which are distinct from the typical adult-directed speech.”
“The way dogs respond to dog-directed speech has raised scientists’ interest.”
“In contrast, much less is known about how cats perceive and respond to cat-directed speech.”
In their study, the authors investigated 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.
They 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 adult-directed) for the cat’s owner or a stranger’s voice, respectively.
They 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.
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.
The researchers suggest that the sudden rebound in behavior indicates that cats could discriminate their owner’s voice from that of a stranger.
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-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-directed and cat-directed tone.
The scientists observed that the cats can distinguish when their owner is talking in a cat-directed tone compared to an adult-directed tone, but did not react any differently when a stranger changes tone.
“Our results highlight the importance of one-to-one relationships for cats, reinforcing recent literature regarding the ability for cats and humans to form strong bonds,” they said.
The study was published in the journal Animal Cognition.
C. de Mouzon et al. Discrimination of cat-directed speech from human-directed speech in a population of indoor companion cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn, published online October 25, 2022; doi: 10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w
Source : Breaking Science News