Cats can actually tell when their owner is speaking directly to them by the tone of their voice, according to new research conducted at France’s Nanterre University in Paris.
We’ve previously covered if cats can recognize their owners by their face and voice. Now, the results of the research confirmed that domesticated cats change their behavior when hearing their owner’s voice, but do not react when they hear the voice of an unknown person or when the owner talks to other people.
Scientists investigated how cats react by playing recordings of phrases spoken by both their owner and an unknown person. They then assessed the intensity of the cats’ reactions to the sound by observing the cats’ behavior as they listened to the recordings.
Can cats distinguish human voices?
The researchers investigated three scenarios:
1. They compared the reactions of cats when they heard their owner’s voice and the voice of an unknown person,
2. They compared the reactions of cats to their owner’s voice when they were directly addressed and when talking to people,
3. They compared the cats’ reaction to the voice of unknown person when addressed directly and while talking to people.
In the first scenario, it was found that the intensity of change of the behavior in 10 out of 16 cats decreased when they heard an unknown person calling them. In contrast, their change in behavior increased significantly after hearing their owner calling.
Some of the cats turned their ears towards the speakers, some twirled around the room, and some had dilated pupils. The change in the behavior of cats led scientists to conclude that they can distinguish human voices.
In the second scenario, 10 cats, eight of which were among the responders in the first scenario, did not react to the recordings of the owner talking to people. However, they began to change their behavior significantly again when they heard the man speaking in a tone of voice that was usually addressed to them.
The third scenario had the same outcome as the second.
Is communication important in the cat-owner relationship?
The researchers concluded that cat conversations are extremely important for bonding for both cats and humans. Due to the small sample of cats, this research may not be fully representative, but the researchers suggest that their findings add a new dimension to the relationship between cats and humans.