A new study has found that a stationary cat can track the location of its owner using audio cues.
The study took place in a cat café, where experts observed the ways in which cats reacted to the voices of their owners without seeing them. The researchers used speakers that played a recording of the cat owners saying their cats’ names.
“I saw a cat with only one of its ears tilted back, listening to the sound behind it, and felt that cats must be thinking about many things from the sound,” one of the study’s authors, Saho Takagi, was quoted by CNN as saying.
Takagi, who is also a doctoral student at Kyoto University, said that she was always interested in the hearing abilities of cats as they have sensitive ears that can move in different directions.
“This time, I investigated whether they map their owner’s position spatially from sounds,” she added.
At the cat cafe where the study took place, researchers placed the speakers apart from each other, ensuring that they were out of the cats’ sight, to gain insight into how the cats would respond to the audio, especially if the owner’s voice appeared to move from one location to another.
They also brought in people who were not animal behavior experts to rate the cats’ level of surprise from a scale of 0 to 4 based on their ear and head movements.
The researchers found that the cats involved in the study were surprised when their owners’ voice “transported” from one location to another, demonstrating evidence of socio-spatial cognition in cats. This means that they can mentally picture where their owners are through cues like audio.
“It is generally believed that cats are not as interested in their owners as dogs are, but it turns out that they were mentally representing the invisible presence of their owners,” said Takagi.