Cats recognise their owners' voices but never evolved to care, says study

Japanese researchers tested cats' reactions to their owners, suggesting that because cats "domesticated themselves" they never needed to take notice

Any cat owner will tell you that although they are sometimes kept as pets, felines are beholden to no one.

A new study from the University of Tokyo has confirmed this, showing that although pet cats are more than capable of recognising their owner’s voice they choose to ignore them - for reasons that are perhaps rooted in the evolutionary history of the animal.

Carried out by Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka, the study tested twenty housecats in their own homes; waiting until the owner was out of sight and then playing them recordings of three strangers calling their names, followed by their owner, followed by another stranger.

The researchers then analysed the cats’ responses to each call by measuring a number of factors including ear, tail and head movement, vocalization, eye dilation and ‘displacement’ – shifting their paws to move.

When hearing their names’ being called the cats displayed “ orientating behaviour” (moving their heads and ears about to locate where the sound was coming from) and although they showed a greater response to their owner’s voices than strangers’, they declined to move when called by any of the volunteers.

“These results indicate that cats do not actively respond with communicative behavior to owners who are calling them from out of sight, even though they can distinguish their owners’ voices,” write Saito and Shinozuka. “This cat–owner relationship is in contrast to that with dogs.”

The study, published by Springer in the Animal Cognition journal, suggests that the reason for cats’ unresponsive behaviour might be traced back to the early domestication of the species, contrasting this with the relationship of humans to dogs.

Recent genetic analysis has revealed that the common ancestor of the modern housecat was Felis silvestris, a species of wildcat that first came into contact with humans around 9,000 years ago. As early societies developed agriculture, these cats moved in to prey on the rodents that were attracted to stores of grain. In the words of the paper’s authors, they effectively “domesticated themselves”.

“Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humans’ orders. Rather, they seem to take the initiative in human–cat interaction.” This is in contrast to the history of dogs and humans, where the former has been bred over thousands of years to respond to orders and commands. Cats, it seems, never needed to learn.

However, it's unlikely that this will dismay cat owners (or indeed, be of any surprise) and the paper notes that although “dogs are perceived by their owners as being more affectionate than cats […] dog owners and cat owners do not differ significantly in their reported attachment level to their pets”.

The study concludes by observing that “the behavioural aspect of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them are still undetermined.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Accountant

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A national firm of chartered ce...

Recruitment Genius: Full Time and Part Time Digital Designer - North Kent

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful web design/deve...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders