Tuesday 25 October 2022

Build a bond with your cat with a baby voice?

A lot of cat owners, I suspect mainly women, like to speak to their cat companion with a baby voice. It is entirely understandable indeed normal. And often people relate to their companion cat as a baby or a toddler, so it all adds up.

The Times newspaper reports on a study which they say found that talking to your cat in a silly voice helps you to bond and communicate with your cat companion.

Alia Butt and her white Persian cat
Alia Butt and her white Persian cat. Image: Instagram.

They suggest that cats are notably less responsive when you don't put on a baby voice. But I think this report is incorrect. I'll tell you why.

The scientists decided that the cats that they assessed responded to their owner's baby voice. But they did not respond to their owner when they spoke in a normal voice. On this basis they decided that the baby voice is more effective in eliciting a feline response.

That is an error in my view. It is because the cat has become habituated to listening to their owner speaking in a baby voice that they respond to it. And they respond to the voice because they link their owner with nice things: food being given to them and cuddles, security and warmth and all the other things that domestic cats like.

This is a cat forming an association between a baby voice and nice things because the owner speaks in a baby voice and provides those nice things.

It is not about the baby voice per se encouraging a feline response.

The point is this, it doesn't matter how the owner speaks to their cat provided it is melodious, pleasant and warm and friendly. It is just that the cat will link that sound with their "surrogate mother" (the human caregiver).

That linkage is the key one. It is how a human caregiver can call their domestic cat to come to them. They are familiar with that sound, and they are familiar with the friendliness of their human owner and the benefits that he or she brings. That's the reward and cats are motivated by rewards like any other sentient being.

As the link described is not present in a stranger, domestic cats do not respond to strangers saying the same things.

And I believe that The Times author is reporting on this incorrectly in my view. Although they do add, correctly, that the scientists who carried out the study suggested that the response is not down to the tone of the voice but the fact that the cat came to associate their owner speaking that way with good things. That is what I am saying.

The study is published in the journal Animal Cognition. They write what all cat lovers already understand, namely that "Cats, who were not so long ago considered as independent and ungrateful creatures, are in fact very well capable of creating and fostering attachment bonds with humans." Domestic cats today are sociable creatures thanks to 10k years of domestication.

RELATED: Domestic cats’ desire to touch tells us that they are sociable.

They analysed the responses of 16 cats who were played recordings. Some recordings involved their owner talking normally in "adult-directed speech". Some involved other people using cat directed speech and some were of their owner talking to them in the usual way which means in baby talk.

They report that there was a spike in responsiveness when cats listen to baby talk from their owner. Yes, we know why, and I have banged on about that above for far too long.

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