Tuesday, November 1, 2022

It is not babytalk that makes a cat listen but the caregiver's voice

Some journalists are misinterpreting a recent study which said that when a cat's owner uses baby talk their cat listens to them, but their cat won't listen to other people. That's a misinterpretation of the results of the study.

It just so happens that a lot of cat caregivers (usually women) use a baby voice when talking to their cat. They do this because they see their cat as a child or toddler or even a baby. They humanise their cat. In more complicated English language, they 'anthropomorphise' their cat and interacting with them as toddlers.

Taylor Swift sees her cats as children
Taylor Swift sees her cats as children. I bet she uses baby talk when communicating with them. Image: Instagram.

The classic example is Taylor Swift's relationships with her cats. It is fine to talk to your cat as if they are a baby or a toddler provided, at all times, you understand that your cat is not a toddler! If you expect your cat to behave like a toddler or a baby, you will be disappointed and that will strain the relationship. You must respect the cat and utilise expectation management as I call it.

And the researchers found that when owners used baby talk with their cat, they achieved a very positive response. But when strangers used a baby voice to try and talk to the same cats they did not respond.

That's the general gist of the research. But it isn't the conclusion. The conclusion is more subtle. It is the sound, tone, timbre, volume and all the other qualities of a human's voice which is recognised by a cat when the sounds are made by their human caregiver.

And this particular sound which is characteristic of each individual caregiver elicits a response because the domestic cat associates it with all the usual things that a good human caregiver provides such as warmth, security, emotional comfort, food, sleeping accommodation, play, and companionship. 

They receive these are all good things. They are things that a domestic cat enjoys and wants. And they link the sound to the reward of these good things.

It is a simple case of positive reinforcement. For example, when the owner calls their cat for food (probably in a baby voice) the cat comes because they know food is on the table for them. That's positive reinforcement and part of the process is using a baby's voice, but it isn't necessary. It just has to be the voice of the provider of the food.

But I'm tired of reading articles by journalists in which they say baby talk gets a response from their cat. I think I made myself clear.

You don't have to be a baby talker they get along with your cat and to get your cat to do things. You simply have to use the same language every time and it should be melodious, friendly and nice, quiet sounds. 

It should be the same sounds each time which leads to a specific reward such as food or allowing your cat to sit on your lap which of course is a reward for both of you.

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