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9 facts about how smart cats are

We humans often try to interact with animals around us by pointing at things. Since this is a typically human communication tool, this behavior reveals our own limits rather than those of our animal friends. However, a 2005 study by Ádám Miklósi and co-workers found that cats can actually follow human gestures to find food. The researchers also looked at whether cats generally turned to humans for help when they were unable to complete a task. However, the animals did not do this.

In another work, scientists investigated the question of whether cats turn to humans in situations that they perceive to be unsafe. This so-called "social referencing" is behavior that both children and adults display. For example, a clown can seem scary at first, but when everyone else is having fun, we quickly learn that we don't have to be afraid in this situation (of course there are always exceptions). To test the phenomenon in cats, they were exposed to a fan with streamers attached to it, which was potentially threatening to the animals. A cat was brought into a room with its owner, the fan was turned on, and the cat owner was asked to be neutral, scared, or satisfied / relaxed.

Most cats (around 80 percent), the researchers found, looked back and forth between the fan and the human, apparently to sound out their own reaction. The animals also responded to the emotional reaction of their owners: if they looked scared, the cats were more likely to move away from the fan and interact with people. This result is difficult to interpret; in the opinion of the authors, the cats may have sought security in their owners. The results of further studies also show that cats react to human emotional states: They are less likely to seek close contact with people who are feeling sad and are more likely to approach those who are in an extroverted or excited mood. Why this is so, however, remains unclear.

Recognize human voices

In 2013, scientists Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka demonstrated that cats can recognize their owner's voice. To prove this, the researchers played sound recordings to cats on which the animals were called by their owners or other people. The cats reacted most strongly when their owner called for them; the reaction was mainly visible in movements of the ears or head and less in the animal - such as a dog - moving in the direction of the voice.

Communication by meow

Young cats have about nine different types of utterance, while adults have about 16. Interestingly, domestic cats and wild cats also differ in their vocalization. This suggests that the relationship with humans has an influence on "cat language". Perhaps one of the most famous sounds made by cats is purring. However, the animals purr not only when they are petted by humans, but also when they are with other animals and young animals. In addition, cats change their purrs to give the utterance a different meaning. For example, if they ask their owner for food, the purring becomes more urgent and unpleasant; the animals usually embed a high meow in the deep purr. However, it is not yet known whether this type of demand for food is specific to the relationship between cats and humans or whether it is also used in another context.

Bond to the owner

In 2007, Claudia Edwards and coworkers carried out what is known as the "Ainsworth Strange Situation Test" to check whether cats are more closely attached to their owner than to any other human. For this test, the cat was brought into a room and had to stay there either alone, with its owner, or with a stranger. The researchers found that the animals sought longer physical contact with their owner than with the stranger. In addition, they only ran after their owner and only played with him. In the presence of their owner, the cats were generally more willing to explore and move around. If the animals were alone or in the presence of the stranger, they behaved more vigilantly and sat near the door for a longer period of time. Most of the vocalizations were made by the cats when they were alone in the room. So it seems that cats actually have a bond with their owner that is stronger than with strangers - this may be a bit of consolation to some.