Cat lovers have long been sure. Now they are getting scientific backing from Japan: Not only dogs can understand people, but also cats, which are considered idiosyncratic – at least to some extent. A team led by scientist Saho Takagi from Azabu University claims to have discovered that cats recognize the names and faces of animal and human household members.
Takagi has been interested in felline friends since her PhD at Kyoto University. In a new study, she wanted to find out whether cats can identify the names of conspecifics in the same household. The team published the result in the science magazine “Nature”.
cat, do you know this cat?
The team selected 48 cats. 19 lived with families. 29 animal employees from five cat cafes served as a control group. In the experiment, cats were told the names of other cats in the same household and shown a picture. If the picture did not match the name of the furry friend, the subjects looked at the picture longer in surprise.
The effect was stronger the longer the cats lived together in a family with humans. Cafe cats, which lived with far more conspecifics and constantly changing visitors, failed to establish the relationship between animal and animal name. The researchers say this is likely because so many cats live in the facilities and their names are mentioned less frequently.
The results are not entirely surprising. A limited understanding of language has already been demonstrated in dogs. According to a Hungarian study, they can even tell that a foreign language is being spoken.
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Cats can tell their loved ones apart
However, there are fewer studies on cats. Because they follow human commands less well than dogs, Takagi explained in a previous cat study. At that time she investigated whether and how cats identify their masters and mistresses.
The result: Cats can tell their loved ones apart. However, unlike dogs, they do not look at their food suppliers when called, which has earned them a reputation for ingratitude. Instead, they locate their human familiars by hearing.
Cats can even recognize their own names, as Takagi’s teammate Atsuko Saito from Sophia University proved in 2019. But cafe cats also responded to the names of other cats in the cafe. The researcher speculated that they associated name calling with feeding. Only cats in the family association reliably responded exclusively to their own names. For their next study, the researchers hope to determine how cats remember other people’s names in everyday life and how well they understand language.
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