Cats Recognize Their Owner’s Voice But Choose to Ignore It
Researchers think cats’ dismissive attitudes are a product of their evolutionary history over the past 9,000 years
Cats, according to new research, recognize their owner's voice. They just can't be bothered to react to it.
Researchers in Japan arrived at this conclusion after performing experiments with twenty house cats. They played recordings of the cats' owners' calling to their pets in whatever cat-talk voice they typically used. They also played recordings of three strangers calling to the cats, using the same words.
To quantify the cats' reactions, the researchers recorded how often cats moved their head, tail, paws or ears, or whether they meowed or dilated their pupils. While the cats showed a significantly greater response to their owners calling their names than to strangers doing so, they did not bother to get up in either instance, the researchers found.
As the Independent explains, the authors think cats' dismissive attitudes are a product of their evolutionary history over the past 9,000 years:
As early societies developed agriculture, these cats moved in to prey on the rodents that were attracted to stores of grain. In the words of the paper’s authors, they effectively “domesticated themselves”.
“Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humans’ orders. Rather, they seem to take the initiative in human–cat interaction.” This is in contrast to the history of dogs and humans, where the former has been bred over thousands of years to respond to orders and commands. Cats, it seems, never needed to learn.
Although the authors conclude that “the behavioral aspect of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them are still undetermined,” they likely need only to take a quick look around the internet to discover the adorable and ridiculous antics that make cats—despite their dismissiveness—appealing to so many.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Cats as Pets and Predators
At the Internet Cat Video Festival, LOLCats Become Art