Learning Catspeak

Your cat may seem aloof, but it's actually paying attention

Every cat owner has a story to tell of being blanked by a cat : We call to our cat, it turns away, and we may wonder why we didn't get a dog.

But your cat may be listening after all.

A study by French researchers that was published in the journal Animal Cognition found that not only do cats react to what scientists call cat-directed speech - a high pitched voice similar to the voice we use in talking to babies - they react to who is doing the talking.

''We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owners speaking normally to another human adult,'' said Charlotte de Mouzon, an author of the study and cat behavior expert at the Universite Paris Nanterre.

''But what was very surprising in our results was that it actually didn't work when it came from a stranger's voice.''

Unlike with dogs, cat behavior is difficult to study, which is part of why humans understand them less.At first, Dr. de Mouzon and her team worried that the cats weren't reacting at all.

But then they studied film recordings of the encounters. ''Their reactions were very subtle,'' Dr. de Mouzon said.'' It could be just moving an ear or turning the head towards the speaker or even freezing what they were doing.'' [Anthony Ham ]


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