A new study from researchers in Japan confirms that cats can recognize the names that their human owners have carefully chosen for them.
Previous studies have shown that cats are intelligent enough to recognize hand gestures, facial expressions, vocal cues, and their owner's voices. However, whether they can actually distinguish their names from other words has not been scientifically explored until now.
What Is In A Name
Researchers tested and observed a total of 78 cats in cat cafés, a coffee shop where multiple cats live and interact with customers, and at home. The team went to the individual homes of the cats, played the recorded voices of their owners, who were not present during the experiment, calling their names to see if the felines would respond. The researchers also played audio of the owners saying other words.
The experiment is based on habituation, a technique in which the subject would respond less and less to the stimulus presented repeatedly. In the experiment, if the cat could not recognize its name, it would show a decrease in interest to the audio presented to them.
The researchers found that when presented with non-name words emitted by the owners, the cats demonstrated signs of waning interest. When they heard their owners say their names, the cats showed increased reaction by moving their ears, heads, and tails or through vocalizations. This was also true when presented with audio of strangers saying the cats' names.
The findings, however, varied among cats in cat cafés. The study found that these cats were really bad at discerning their own names from the names of other cat cafés cats.
The researchers claim that the study is the first "experimental evidence showing cats' ability to understand human verbal utterance." They published the study in the journal Scientific Reports.
Only Some Cats Recognize Their Names
Mikel Delgado from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine warned that while the paper was interesting, the number of cats that actually responded to their names was quite small. She also expressed doubt over how the data was interpreted by the researchers.
"Generally, only one-third to half of cats show an increased response to their name-which isn't exactly mind-blowing," she told Gizmodo.
The findings confirm that at least some cats have the cognitive ability to recognize their names from other human words. Whether they would respond is an entirely different matter.