Recent research suggests that domestic cats may share some of the same language recognition skills commonly seen in dogs.
In a 2019 paper in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers showed that cats can recognize their own names in a series of verbal words. Now, new research from some of the same scientists suggests that this familiarity may extend to a housecat’s feline companions.
In a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers questioned 48 domestic cats about the names of other felines they lived with. 29 of the cats were residents of Japanese cat cafes, where customers could interact freely with cats and possibly collect hairballs from their coffee; the other 19 lived in private residences, each housing three or more cats.
For each cat participant, the researchers played an audio recording in which the cat’s owner called out another cat’s name several times in a row. After the fourth study, the researchers showed the participant cat a photo on a laptop screen; In two of the four subsequent attempts, the photo showed the face of the cat called by the owner (this is called the “harmonious condition”). In the remaining attempts, the photo showed the face of a different cohabiting cat than the one the owner called (“incompatible condition”).
The researchers found that house cats, not café cats, stared at the screen longer when there was an incongruous image on the screen. This suggests that the cats’ expectations have not come true and that their feline companions are trying to grapple with the fact that their names and faces are not compatible.
“We showed that cats expect a certain face when they hear a friend’s specific name,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “This study provides evidence that cats associate a friend’s name and the corresponding face without explicit training.”
Interestingly, the researchers wrote that café cats didn’t pay much attention to the screen during the incompatible condition, and in general, they paid less attention to the trials than house cats. This suggests that café cats are less familiar to each of their feline companions than house cats, and may have heard individual cats named less often called.
On the other hand, house cats are more likely to hear their friends’ names being said more often, especially during feeding time, when a cat’s name determines which animal will get food and which ones won’t. This may be giving house cats more opportunities and more encouragement to associate a companion cat’s name with their face.
Of course, given the difficulties of keeping a cat’s attention, any studies on the behavior of a house cat should have been carried out with a catmint. While the house cats in the study focused on the discordant image for longer periods of time on average, on average, compared to the discordant image, the time difference was only a few dozen image frames (just one or two seconds) at most.
And that’s when the cats decided to pay attention to the screen. The team acknowledged that several trials should be excluded from the team’s analysis, as the cat completely refuses to look at the screen. After deciding that all this scientific phenomenon was not for him, a cat had to be excluded from the study. The team wrote that this cat “only completed the first attempt before escaping the room and climbing into an inaccessible place.”