A new study says that cats can learn and react to the sound of their own name. It also claims to be the first experimental
evidence that cats can discern human speech.
The results published Thursday in journal Scientific Reports do not suggest cats can attach meaning to words or understand their name refers to their identity, researcher Atsuko Saito of Sophia University in Tokyo explained.
Rather, Japanese scientists documented that cats reacted differently to their own name as compared to other words — they perked up.
That happens because the animals hear their name often and begin to respond to the word, Saito explained. Cats learn that their name is often followed by rewards such as food or play — but sometimes before negative events like a visit to the vet.
The new study confirms that "cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they're learning from it," said Monique Udell, who also studies animal behavior at Oregon State.
The study used four experiments with 16 to 34 animals in its analysis. In those experiments researchers used the cats' owner's voices in some situations and a stranger's voice in others. Cats who lived in homes and at "cat cafés" were studied.
"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 reads.
Dogs' ability to learn human words has been extensively researched, and the authors cited evidence that dogs could learn hundreds of words.
And while the study's authors say some cat owners have reported their pet has learned multiple words, little research had
previously been done to verify these observations.