A new study finds cats have closer relationships with their owners than previously thought

Much more than a “can opener”
Cats recognize their humans through their language

Until now, cats were said to be selfish and independent. But animals can have a much closer relationship with their owners than previously thought. The results of the study indicate this.

Cats can tell if their owners are talking to them or to a human. This is at least the result of a small French study Published in Animal Cognition had become. For the authors, the study confirms what cat owners have long believed: Fur noses can build close relationships with their “own” humans. On the other hand, they ignore the rumors of strangers, according to another observation of researchers.

The images show how cats react to the calls of their humans.

(Photo: Charlotte de Maison)

The adage “dogs have owners, cats have staff” sums up what is generally assumed to be a typical personality of house tigers: they are more selfish, more independent and – unlike dogs – hardly build a relationship with their owners. The study by behavioral biologist Charlotte de Mozon of the University of Paris-Nanterre suggests that cats don’t care as much about their owners as bias suggests.

It has long been known that a person’s tone of voice changes depending on whether they are talking to adults, children or their pets. De Mouzon’s team studied how 16 cats responded to pre-recorded sounds of their owner and a stranger when they said phrases in a human-directed and human-directed tone. She played tape recordings corresponding to house tigers and documented reactions such as ear movements, pupil dilation, tail movements and general agitation.

Strangers are ignored

In fact, the cats’ behavior intensified when their owner called their name instead of a strange one. In another audio recording, the owners first spoke in the direction of another human and then addressed their animals. The change in tone increased the intensity of the behavior. In other words, cats can apparently tell that they are being spoken to now. However, the animals didn’t care about a stranger’s voice—regardless of whether they were spoken to directly or the audio recording was directed at another human.

The study authors concluded that the results indicated that cats could distinguish speech directed at them specifically from speech directed at humans. However, patterns of differentiation only appear when cat owners interact with cats. “Recognizing that cats have the ability to understand a particular way of communication from their owner is further evidence that people should think of cats as sensitive and communicative individuals.”

Denotes a strong bond

As the authors themselves noted, the sample is small, so the results may not be representative of cat behavior. However, it is again an indication that animals can form strong bonds with humans.

In fact, in recent years, a growing body of research has suggested that furry friends see their human owners as more than just can openers. For example, a US study published in 2019 found that animals often form similar emotional bonds with their owners as children do with adults.

Four years ago, Italian researchers reported that cats turn to their humans for guidance in situations they find unsafe. And in 2020, a Brazilian study indicated that pets miss their owners when they are left alone. The authors concluded that “cats can be considered social partners of their owners, and vice versa.”

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