Wednesday 10 November 2021

Domestic cats can tell where you are from your voice and distinguish between voices

I'm not sure that this study furthers the sum knowledge of cat behaviour but at least it is quite nice to have a study confirm what most of us already know.

The study found that the cats "can mentally picture where others are through cues like sound". What that means to me is that domestic cats can visualise the location of a person by hearing the sound of their voice only. This is called 'socio-spatial cognition'. CNN have phrased the skill thus: Cats can track your 'invisible presence' using only their ears. As I say below - no surprise. How do they think cats catch mice in long grass? Through sound that's how. 😇

The large ears of a male Devon Rex in Russia
The large ears of a male Devon Rex in Russia. Photo: Олеся Бондарева (Russia).

Cats can also distinguish between different people and therefore different voices and sounds produced by them. Finally they can also recognise emotional sounds. This is why cats respond to the sound of their owner calling them.

The ability to create mental images is present in other animals such as meerkats and vervet monkeys.

The study took place at Kyoto University. The lead researcher is Saho Takagi. She said that she has always been interested in cats' hearing.

The researchers placed speakers apart from each other and out of sight. It seems that they used the voices of the cats' owners. The voice of a person was emitted from these speakers at different location. The participating cats recognised the sounds at these different locations.

I think I can provide a practical example. Many years ago I had placed by now deceased female cat in a boarding cattery for 2 weeks. On my return to collect her as I walked into the large room where there were pens, I called out. I couldn't see her and vice versa. A worker there told me that she turned towards my voice. She recognised my voice which to be honest was entirely expected and of course she knew where it was coming from.

ASSOCIATED: Is my cat losing her hearing?

The reason why I think the study is rather pointless is because we know that cats have incredibly mobile ear flaps driven by around 30 separate muscles. They hear behind them and think nothing of not turning their head to towards the source of the sound. They know where the sound is coming from, locate it and don't even bother to turn their head.

ASSOCIATED: What is the hearing range of a cat?

The incredible mobility of their ear flaps supports the notion that cats pinpoint sounds very accurately. In fact they can detect the position of small prey animals by sound alone. This skill is also present in the serval which has enormous ear flaps. They detect small mammals in long grass by sound alone and pounce on them without seeing the prey animal first.

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