Cats have a number of dog-like qualities. Some likes to greet their humans at the door when they come home, or they often tap you on the shoulder so you could give them some attention. They love it too when their bellies are scratched, but unlike dogs, they do not come to you when you call them even after multiple times.
A new study says cats know their names, but they don’t really care answering to them.
“I love cats,” Atsuko Saito, a psychologist at Tokyo’s Sophia University, told National Geographic in an interview. “They’re so cute and selfish. When they want to be touched, they’ll come by me, but when they want to be left alone, they’ll just leave.”
She has spent a lot of time studying cats, and her previous research showed how much the felines respond to their owners’ voices, which could suggest they may in fact understand their names.
To test her theory, Saito visited a number of cats all across Japan. One test group included kitties living with just a few other felines, or none at all; another had four or more cats; lastly, cats living in cat cafes.
In each test, researchers watched the way cats responded upon being addressed – whether they moved their ears, tails, or heads, or if they meowed in recognition.
Researchers played their subjects recordings of their owners (and of strangers) saying four same words that sounded, in rhythm and length like the feline’s name. Of the 11 cats tested, nine of them perked yp their head when called correctly.
For the group of cats, the names of their fellow felines were called before their own. Only six of the 24 cats involved snapped to attention when they heard their own names. Researchers suggest the subject might have associated all their names with a reward, like food, pets and play.
For cats in the café, they have a “more muted reaction” compared to the names of other inhabitants. Owners often call their cats at meal time or when they go to the vet. Researchers suggest name recognition may be attached to the expectation of rewards and punishment.
“Cats are not evolved to respond to human cues,” Saito said. “They will communicate with humans when they want.” And will probably ignore us when they want.