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Cats Catch Their Name When Owners Say It, Study Suggests

Research finds a more pronounced reaction than to other words
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2019 8:19 PM CDT
A study released on Thursday suggests house cats respond to the sound of their own names. Researchers said it’s the first experimental evidence that cats can distinguish between words people say.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Newser) – Domestic cats recognize their own name—at least when their owner says it—a new study has found. Whether the cats let their owners know that is another matter. Atsuko Saito, a University of Tokyo behavioral scientist, had already shown that cats recognize their owner's voice. In her new study, Scientific American reports, she found that cats had more pronounced responses when they heard their names rather than similar words or another cat's name. The study was published Thursday in Scientific Reports. Many cat owners have seen this, of course, but there had been no research documenting it until now. Saito says she thinks cats learn to recognize their names because they associate the word with reward or punishment. But they're unlikely to realize that word is their name, attached to them. "The recognition about their name is different from ours," Saito said.

John Bradshaw, who studies human-animal interactions at the University of Bristol, told Scientific American that he's not convinced cats recognize their name when someone other than their owner says it. "I'd like to see more trials before I'd say that the evidence is compelling," said Bradshaw, who was not involved in Saito's research. Cats might be able to learn other words, she said, which means it might be possible to train cats to, say, retrieve objects. The Guardian reports the authors decided not to undertake that sort of experiment, saying, as any cat owner knows, "The training of cats to perform on command would require a lot of effort and time." (One cat's name is a political zinger.)

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