Saturday, July 3, 2021

Domestic cats recognize the sound of their name says scientist (we know it already)

OPINION: Cat owners don't need a scientist to tell them that their cat recognises the sound of the name. Newsweek tells us in an article of June 30 that a Japanese scientist found that domestic cats recognise the sound of their name. The article is presented as some sort of eureka moment but it simply isn't. 

For centuries cat owners have been talking to the cat companions, calling their name to come and they dutifully came. It's pretty obvious that domestic cats understand the sound of their name even if they don't understand the word or their name per se. 

Cats do understand the sound of their names like dogs. Neither cat nor dog understand the meaning of their name and that they are sentient beings. Neither are self-aware.
Cats do understand the sound of their names like dogs. Neither cat nor dog understand the meaning of their name and that they are sentient beings. Neither are self-aware. Pic in public domain.

It's all about the sound especially when spoken by their owner. In fact, it is probably fair to say that it is essential that their owner makes the sound because the way a person sounds in saying words is important in terms of a domestic cat's recognition of those sounds.

The study referred to is by behavioural scientist Atsuko Saito from Sophia University in Tokyo. The study is called: "Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats" and it is published in the journal Animal Cognition. In fact, it was published in 2013 so it has been around for quite a long time. A further study titled "Domestic cats discriminate their names from other words" was published in 2019 in Scientific Reports. It looks at the responses of individual cats to their names.

Cats responded to the sound of their name by meowing or body language such as moving their heads or tails and sometimes vocalising. Once again this is not something new for cat owners. I am one of many millions of cat owners who talk to their cat all the time. In fact, the sound of a cat owner's voice is far more important to cats than simply saying their cat's name.

In a genuinely loving relationship between cat and person, cats respond very positively to the sound of their human companion's voice. This is because it is comforting and reassuring. It's almost as good as being petted from the cat's standpoint. Like many other owners I sometimes whisper sweet nothings into my cat's ear at very close range. I know he likes it because he looks at me with a slow blink asking for more.

It's when you combine something like flea combing and warm reassuring sounds that your cat gets the maximum benefit from their interactions with you.

The Japanese study also found that when strangers said their cat's name, they were less responsive but still appeared to recognise the sound. This confirms what I've just stated above. The reason why cats don't respond quite so positively to a stranger saying their name is because the sound is slightly different to that of their owner. Domestic cats are very acutely attuned to frequency of sounds. There is obviously a specific frequency and tone to a cat owner's voice which is registered very precisely in their cat's memory.

The Japanese scientist thinks, like me, that cats are unable to be self-aware or self-conscious. She said: "There is no evidence that cats have the ability to recognise themselves like us". This means that their recognition of their name is different to when humans recognise the sound of their name. Humans recognise their name by its meaning. They know that it's a word which is a reference to them. Cats can't do this because they don't understand the English language or any other language. They are not linguists and not self-aware but they are highly tuned to sounds as they are to smells and visuals especially at dusk in the dark conditions.

Lastly, commonsense states that cats respond to the sound of the name because they associate the sound with something positive and pleasant, normally food, a cuddle or perhaps play.

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