Much is known about the ability of dogs to communicate with humans, but researchers in Japan decided to investigate how well domestic cats could discriminate between different human words. The study claims to be "the first experimental evidence showing cats' ability to understand human verbal utterances".
The study was published few days ago in the journal Scientific Reports and found that even though cats can’t attach meaning to human words, if a cat hears its name over and over again, it can learn that the sound has a special meaning.
Researchers conducted four experiments with 16 to 34 cats in each.
The experiment involved measuring whether the cats reacted to their names when they were spoken among a string of other random nouns.The same test was then carried out with the words being spoken by a stranger, rather than by the cats' owners.
According to the study, the words recited were “nouns with the same length and accents as their own names.”
Researchers said that the cats, on average, began to lose interest as the list went on but perked up, moving their heads or tails, once they heard their own name — even when an unfamiliar person's voice said them. "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 read.
The study added that cats most likely only know their names because they’re connected with receiving rewards or punishments.
"Cats' names can be associated with rewards, such as food, petting, and play, or with punishments, such as taking them to a veterinary clinic or to a bath," the study read. Monique Udell, who studies animal behavior at Oregon State, told the Associated Press that the study shows "cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they're learning from it."
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