Cats have been living with people for about 9,500 years now. Still, there is a lot that people do not understand about cats.
Cats are known for their emotional opaqueness and standoffishness. Most times, if not all, cats seem uninterested in communicating with their owners. Often, this behavior leaves their owners asking themselves repeatedly: Do cats understand humans? Can they differentiate between an angry tone and a loving one? Is there particular sound they recognize ? Do they recognize their own names ?
To understand how cats view humans, you have to study how they think and behave in social situations.
Is there a particular sound that cats recognize?
Research conducted by Japanese researchers confirms that over time, cats learn and understand individual human communication sounds. They can distinguish their owners’ voice from those of other people. They can recognize words that they hear frequently.
The University of Tokyo conducted a study on cat behaviors in their home environment. This study involved recording how cats react to various sounds. The research found that cats are able to detect a familiar voice. They noted that the cats responded by moving their heads and ears towards the sound when they recognized a familiar voice. They also pointed out that cats displayed pupil dilation that could signal emotions such as excitement and sadness.
However, the researchers discovered that cats respond to inflection and cadence more than words themselves. For instance, they will respond better to you if you call out their name in a sing song voice that ends on a high note as opposed to you calling out their name in a stern tone.
Can cats distinguish between an angry tone and a friendly tone?
Yes! However, there have been very few scientific studies on how cats communicate with humans and their vocal abilities. Those conducted mainly focus on the mechanics of the purring sound. The most recent study by C.A Tony Buffington, a professor of veterinary medicine at The Ohio State University, was aimed at analyzing the various purrs cats employ. They are referred to as Solicitation purrs.
What are solicitation Purrs?
These are purrs that mimic what cats observe to be effective when trying to get a response from their humans. For instance, a domestic cat that is majorly dependent on a person for its survival will scrutinize their caregiver for any response to the different purr sounds they send out. Whatever purr gets a reaction of the human is what they will use. This may go beyond purring to lying down on the floor or doing figure eights between their own feet.
As a home owner, you will realize that your feline friend has different distinct sounds for various situations.
Are cats dependent on humans?
Unlike dogs, cats do not form a childlike dependence on their owners. However, this does not mean that they do not bond with their owner. It just means that the cat does not look to its human as a source of safety and security. The love that cats feel for their owners is not rooted on dependence but something else. Their independence is clearly portrayed in their hunting habits. Naturally, unlike dogs that hunt in packs cats are very independent hunters.
Do cats form an attachment to their owner?
The feline reaction is very subtle. This makes them very hard to read. Edward et al. conducted a research dubbed “Ainsworth strange situations test” that was aimed at seeing whether cats showed attachment to their owners. In this study, the cats were put in a room with their owners. The owner would leave the room, and a stranger would enter and try to engage the cats in play.
This research proved that cats are indeed attached to their humans. The researchers noted that the cats spent more time all grooming their owners than strangers. These cats rarely followed or played with the stranger. They were more exploratory and moved around more when their owner was in the room compared to when they were left alone with the stranger.
When the cat was left alone in the room, they noted that it spent more time being alert and sitting by the door. They also vocalized a lot during this time. They noted that although cats have not evolved to follow their owners’ orders, they do have a special bond with their owners.
Do cats suffer separation anxiety?
They were slight signs of separation anxiety when their owners left the room. They meowed slightly more frequently when left alone. The researchers also noted that the cats urinated and defecated excessively, were more destructive, and groomed more when their owners left the room.
This only goes to show that cats have a stronger attachment to their owner than with a stranger.
How do cats perceive human emotion?
Even after living with them for decades, cat owners are still unable to tell how their feline friends feel about them. They seem less concerned with the human affair. Conversely, research shows that cats pay more attention than they are given credit for. Research conducted by Jennifer Vonk and Moriah Galvan of Oakland University in Rochester Michigan goes to show that cats behaved differently when their owners were smiling compared to when they were frowning.
These students studied 12 cats and their owners. They noted that when the owner had a smiling face, the cat performed positive behaviors such as sitting on their owner’s lap or purring. They also pointed out that the cats spent a lot of time away from their owner whenever they presented a frowning face.
The results of this research only prove that is more in line with human emotion after all.
While numerous studies on cat cognition have helped prove that they understand their people, there is still a large part of cat behavior that remains a mystery and understudied. A greater understanding of cat behavior and our influence on them will lead to better human-cat interactions. Unlike dogs, cats require a little more work to understand. In addition, as much as they may seem aloof and uncaring, they understand you-just in their own feline-specific ways.