It has long been assumed that such an ability was peculiar to canines and cetaceans, but research carried out by Atsuko Saito and colleagues from Sophia University in Tokyo revealed that cats too react to their name being said.
Published in the natural sciences' journal Scientific Reports, Saito's method was simple: ‘In four experiments with 16 to 34 animals, each cat heard a recording of its owner's voice, or another person's voice, that slowly recited a list of four nouns or other cat's names, followed by the cat's own name’.
Saito concluded the specimen cats responded to their voiced name even when they had lost interest in other words of the delivered group.
‘More than half of the cats responded to voice stimuli by moving their ears and heads,’ he writes. ‘Fewer than 10% of the cats demonstrated vocalisation, tail movement, and displacement’.
Not a recognition of 'being'
The results were welcomed by cat-lovers many of whom are already convinced of the long-standing ability of cats to recognise their name. However, speaking to Bloomberg about the results Saito was doubtful that the cats in the study related the sound of their name to a recognition of their being.
‘There's no evidence cats actually attach meaning to our words,’ Saito said, ‘not even their own names.
‘Instead, they've learned that when they hear their names they often get rewards like food or play, or something bad like a trip to the vet. And they hear their names a lot. So the sound of it becomes special, even if they don't really understand it refers to their identity’.