People's love for cats is unrequited, study indicates

April 28, 2014

The agony of unrequited love. It may be what keeps us devoted to the felines in our lives.

A recent study confirms what cat owners have long known. Our cats understand us when we talk to them, they just donít give a fig about what we have to say.

A study by two University of Tokyo researchers, published by Springer in Animal Cognition journal, determined cats recognize their ownersí voices from those of strangers. Conducted by Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka, the test included 20 domesticated cats from 14 homes that were tested in their own familiar places so the stress of moving them to strange surroundings had no role in the outcome of the tests. With the owners out of the catsí line of vision, researchers played recordings of three strangers calling the catsí names followed by a call from the catís owner and then by the call of another stranger.

Researchers charted the catsí reactions by measuring a number of responses, including head movements, tail and ear movements, eye dilation and vocalization or whether they moved their paws.

When strangers called their names, the cats had no reaction to the voices whatsoever. When the cats heard their names being called by their owners, they moved their heads and ears to locate where the sound was coming from.

Researchers say it proves that while cats can distinguish their ownersí voices, their responses are not communicative.

In other words, he hears you just fine, he just doesnít care what you want from him.

I guess cat owners will just have to accept and appreciate that they get even that much of a response from a species that obviously believes we are on the planet to do its bidding.

The study suggests that the reason cats are so standoffish might be traced back to their early domestication 10,000 years ago. Dogs are bred and have evolved "to follow their ownerís orders, but cats have not been," co-author of the study, Saito, told Discovery News. They were not domesticated to work with people as dogs were and consequently feel themselves our equals.

Cats originated in the Middle East from wild cats that killed rodents and kept them out of farmersí grain stores.

It appears that as soon as we welcomed them into our homes, cats quickly began to train humans to their wills.

Recent studies have shown dogs and horses have an advanced ability to understand human social cognition. However, the social cognition of the cats that share more than 45 million American homes with us have not been investigated as much as that of dogs.

Unlike dogs that learned how to "read" humansí every movement from body language to hand and eye movement, cats pretty much evolved on their own.

Letís face it. Felines view humans as big, clumsy cats and treat us the same way they treat each other.

Cats live to be served and adored.

Which is not to say they havenít developed a keen ability to manipulate humans. How many cat owners have not experienced the joy of a hungry cat waking us by swatting our faces until they rouse us from sleep at 5 a.m.? And we respond as quickly to loud vocalizations of their demands as we do to a crying baby who needs a diaper change.

So, if you are thinking about adopting a cat, donít expect them to swish their tails and come running like the family dog when itís called.

A cat gives its love begrudgingly and it must be well earned. Get used to it.


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services