Everyone knows that you can train dogs to obey commands and respond to their names — and to recognize the word “walk” or anything that remotely rhymes with “walk.” But what about cats? It’s not as if they do anything we say…
Well, as it turns out, cats may not be as oblivious as some think. Researchers from the University of Tokyo and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science conducted a study to finally prove that cats can recognize their names. It was published this month in Scientific Reports, a Nature Research journal.
In four experiments with 16 to 34 animals apiece, each cat was exposed to human voices saying four similar-sounding nouns or other cat’s names, with the cat’s own name mixed in. They varied the conditions; in the fourth experiment, the cat’s names were being used by strangers and not their owners. We can only imagine how much they had to pay people to sit there for hours playing recordings to a cat mostly ignoring them. That can do things to a person’s ego.
Anyway, the study showed that cats tended to react to their own names, either by moving their heads or tails. And those of you who own cats know that even that slight movement is more acknowledgment than cats usually provide.
One of the study’s primary researchers, University of Tokyo’s Atsuko Saito, told the Associated Press it’s not necessarily that the cats understand the concept of names. But they do eventually learn that the sound of their name is usually followed by food or treats or chin scratches or other things they want. Or things they don’t want — like trips to the vet or baths or commands to get out of the Christmas tree. Either way, cats hear the sound of their name often enough that they do respond to it and know it means … something.
“From the results of all experiments, it thus appears that at least cats living in ordinary households can distinguish their own names from general words and names of other cats,” the study concludes. “This is the first experimental evidence showing cats’ ability to understand human verbal utterances.”
Of course, this study could prove useful in training cats. But more importantly, this is finally scientific evidence proving what you have known for years: that when you call your cat and it ignores you, it is doing so on purpose. Because cats.