Cats definitely recognize their names, according to a new study — so why don’t they come when they’re called?
Cat ladies (and gentlemen) of the world know that cats are a rather discerning kind of pet. Unlike dogs, who drool and wag their tails at the first sign of attention from their owners, felines dole out recognition on their own time, no exceptions. It’s kind of why we love them so much. You have to work for their love, and I think that makes you appreciate it a little bit more.
Now, we have even more proof to that effect. Researchers in Japan just published a study that shows cats recognize their names. So when you call out to them and they ignore you, that’s actually a choice that they’re making. Sweet, fuzzy little assholes.
In the study, which was published Thursday in Scientific Reports, researchers met the kitties in their own homes to make sure they were comfortable and acting themselves. They then had volunteers or the cats’ owners read them a series of words, ending with their own names. The string of random words were “nouns with the same length and accents as their own names,” and they were meant to get the cats used to hearing human voices, so any change in their behavior when they heard their own names was because they recognized that word, specifically.
And wouldn’t you know it, almost all the cats in the study moved their heads and ears when they heard their names.
What’s more is that in some cases, the random words the researchers used before their names were actually the names of other cats in the household, yet the test subjects only responded to their own names. That means they didn’t just react to a word they hear often, they reacted to a word they somehow assign some importance to. Hence, your cat definitely knows its name, and is definitely just ignoring you when it chooses not to respond to it. Sorry, not sorry. Your kitty is a jerk.
What researchers couldn’t tell from this study was whether the felines they tested actually knew that their names refer to them. It was clear they recognized the words and reacted to them accordingly. But did they understand that those words represented their identity? Nobody knows.
“I agree with the authors that it cannot tell us if cats represent their names as a label that identifies them, but it is interesting that they do attend to it as a special signal, probably associated with rewards such as food and petting,” Jennifer Vonk, an animal cognition expert at Oakland University, told NPR.
Regardless, though, the point is still the same. Whether you cat associates its name with itself, food, pets or playtime, it recognizes the word and is choosing to ignore you every time it doesn’t react to it. The good news is that cat lovers already know who runs the house (spoiler: it’s not anyone human), and this won’t change anything about the love we feel toward our feline companions.