Cats Learn Names of Their Feline Friends, New Study Shows

by johnsmith

Humans communicate with each other through language, which enables us talk about things beyond time and space. Do non-human animals learn to associate human speech with specific objects in everyday life? In new research, a team of scientists in Japan examined whether cats (Felis catus) matched familiar cats’ names and faces and human family members’ names and faces.

Takagi et al. examined whether domestic cats learn that human utterances indicate specific objects in their daily life. Image credit: Corina.

Takagi et al. examined whether domestic cats learn that human utterances indicate specific objects in their daily life. Image credit: Corina.

Similar to dogs, cats are one of the most widespread companion animals in the world.

Although the ancestral Libyan wildcat (Felis lybica) is a solitary species, many domestic cats live with humans and show evidence of social cognitive operations concerning humans.

They can use human pointing cues and gaze cues to find food. They also discriminate between human facial expressions and attentional states, and identify their owner’s voice.

Furthermore, cats match their owner’s voice and face when tested with their owner’s photo presented on a screen, and human emotional sounds and expressions.

In two new experiments, Dr. Saho Takagi from Kyoto University, Azabu University and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and colleagues examined whether cats matched familiar cats’ names and faces (experiment 1) and human family members’ names and faces (experiment 2).

“Our hypothesis was that cats learned face-name relationships by observing interactions involving their owner, and that more such observations would lead to stronger learning,” they explained.

“We tested two groups of cats, differing in the number of other cats they lived with: cats belonging to cat cafés where many cats live together, and household cats.”

Cats were presented with a photo of the familiar cat’s face on a laptop monitor after hearing the same cat’s name or another cat’s name called by the subject cat’s owner (experiment 1) or an experimenter (experiment 2).

Half of the trials were in a condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition.

The results of the first experiment showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not.

In the second experiment, cats living in larger human families were found to look at the monitor for increasingly longer durations in the incongruent condition.

Furthermore, this tendency was stronger among cats that had lived with their human family for a longer time, although we could not rule out an effect of age.

“Our study provides evidence that cats link a companion’s name and corresponding face without explicit training,” the authors said.

The team’s paper was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


S. Takagi et al. 2022. Cats learn the names of their friend cats in their daily lives. Sci Rep 12, 6155; doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-10261-5

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