The big debate this morning with Joel and Maryann was whether or not our pets understand us when we talk to them. We all talk to our pets, and while we think they know what we’re saying they most likely do not. They know we’re talking to them, but don’t really know what the words really mean. However, when we say things like “Do you want to go out?” or “Are you hungry?” they do understand mainly because they’ve heard it many times and know what usually comes next. Much like Pavlov’s dog, the ringing of a bell or the sound of a jangling leash when it’s time to go for a walk.
A new study published in the Animal Cognition Journal reveals that cats know when their owners are talking to them. Researchers had 16 cats take part in their experiment in which they played the speaking voices of their owners and strangers. They then monitored changes in the cat’s movements and reactions. They found the cats got more intense when their owner was speaking to them as opposed to the stranger.
Researcher Anita Kelsey told Newsweek, “I think it’s safe to say cats understand human speech, not only by what outcome that speech portrays [but also] the familiarity of certain tones and what the outcome of those are too. In my opinion, [they are] not so much understanding the words and their meaning in the human sense, but understanding through the association of what happens from that word. Cats are often perceived as anti-social animals, but Kelsey says that this assumption is unfounded: “I think this stereotype comes from the fact we are a species with a special affiliation to dogs, and dogs are people pleasers. As cats are not people pleasers, they have been stamped as being anti-social pets. Cats do in fact show us a whole plethora of affection in a different way and do have strong bonds with their guardians.”
The results of the study “suggest that cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans. Interestingly, this pattern of discrimination was found only when sentences were uttered by the cats’ owners.”
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