Study: Cats re­act to sound of their names

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Mal­colm Ritter

NEW YORK — Hey, Kitty! Yes, you. A new study sug­gests house­hold cats can re­spond to the sound of their own names.

Ja­panese sci­en­tists said they’ve pro­vided the first ex­per­i­men­tal ev­i­dence that cats can dis­tin­guish be­tween words that peo­ple say.

At­suko Saito of Sophia Uni­ver­sity in Tokyo says there’s no ev­i­dence cats at­tach mean­ing to words, not even their own names. In­stead, they’ve learned that when they hear their names they of­ten get re­wards like food or play, or some­thing bad like a trip to the vet. And they hear their names a lot. So the sound of it be­comes spe­cial, even if they don’t un­der­stand it refers to their iden­tity.

Saito and col­leagues de­scribe the re­sults of their re­search in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Re­ports. In four ex­per­i­ments with 16 to 34 an­i­mals, each cat heard a record­ing of its owner’s voice, or another per­son’s voice, that slowly re­cited a list of four nouns or other cat’s names, fol­lowed by the cat’s own name.

Many cats ini­tially re­acted — such as by mov­ing their heads, ears or tails — but grad­u­ally lost in­ter­est as the words were read. The cru­cial ques­tion was whether they’d re­spond more to their name. Sure enough, on av­er­age, th­ese cats perked up when they heard their own name.

Kristyn Vi­tale, who stud­ies cat be­hav­ior and the cat-hu­man bond at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity in Cor­val­lis but didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the work, said the re­sults “make com­plete sense to me.”

Vi­tale agreed that the new re­sults don’t mean that cats as­sign a sense of self to their names. It’s more like be­ing trained to rec­og­nize a sound, she said.

Monique Udell, who also stud­ies an­i­mal be­hav­ior at Ore­gon State, said the study shows “cats are pay­ing at­ten­tion to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learn­ing from it.”


Sci­en­tists say cats have learned that when they hear their names they of­ten get some­thing good — food or play time.

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