Research Shows Cats Are Rude; Can Recognize Their Owners Voice But Choose Not To Respond
Cat owners love them anyway.
Unlike dogs, who, with just a bit of training, can be taught to come gallivanting when their owner calls, cats, as any cat owner will tell you, cannot be bothered. You can beg, plead, or even wave treats in a cat's general direction, but far too often human exhortations fall on deaf cat ears. You're lucky if kitty flicks its ears in your general direction.
A recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition has confirmed what cat lovers have long known — a cat recognizes its owner's voice but doesn't really care to communicate this fact to its owner.
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The study's researchers, Atsuko Saito of the University of Tokyo and Kazutaka Shinozuka, of University of South Florida College of Medicine, tested twenty cats each in its own home. The researchers waited until the owners were out of sight of their cat, and then played each cat five recordings. The first three were recordings of three separate strangers calling the cat's name. The next recording was a recording of the cat's owner calling its name. The final recording was of a fourth stranger calling the cat's name. Throughout the processes Saito and Shinozuka recorded and analyzed the cats' responses to each call by measuring a number of factors including ear, tail, and head movement, as well as eye dilation and vocalization.
All of the cats displayed "orienting behavior" when their names were called (i.e. moving their heads and ears to locate the source of the sound), and they showed a greater response to their owner's voices than to strangers voices. However, regardless of who called the cats, they budged for no one. Write Saito and Shinozuka, "These results indicate that cats do not actively respond with communicative behavior to owners who are calling them from out of sight, even though they can distinguish their owners' voices." Typical.
Why are cats so less convivial to human interaction than man's best friend (i.e. dogs)? Saito and Shinozuka suggest the answer might lay in the how the two species were domesticated. Humans domesticated dogs to fulfill our needs — we actively worked to select traits that made the once wolf-like and pack animal compatible with human societies. By contrast, cats (true to their autonomous ways) likely domesticated themselves. One could also reasonably argue that, based on the number of cat memes, websites, and books currently in circulation, cats actually domesticated humans.
While human interaction with dogs dates back more than 30,000 years, our relationships with our feline compatriots date back a mere 9,000 or so years. Cats moved into our company to feed on the mice and rats that tend to follow human civilizations (and our stores of food) around, well, like...rats. It has been from its inception a mutually beneficial relationship, and one that continues to this day — many an apartment dweller has invested in a house cat to keep the mice at bay. This, naturally, raises another question. If cats are so ambivalent about us, why do we like cats so much?
Saito and Shinozuka have something to say about this as well, although they do seem...ambivalent. "The behavioral aspect of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them," they wrote, "are still undetermined."
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