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Cats Learn the Names of Their Friend Cats

(They may know your name, too)

By: Modern Cat

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Header photo: RF

Though cats have a reputation of only being self-interested, findings from Japan show they’re actually listening to us quite closely. A recent study from Kyoto University published in Scientific Reports found that cats have the ability to recognize each other’s names—and may even know their owner’s name, too.  

The study looked at household and café cats who lived in groups of three or more. Each cat was shown photos of cats they knew and others they didn’t know on a screen while listening to a voice recording of their owner calling a cat’s name. The household cats spent a longer time looking at the monitor when the name being called didn’t match the photo shown, a phenomenon known as the expectancy violation effect.

“Only household cats anticipated a specific cat face upon hearing the cat’s name, suggesting that they matched the stimulus cat’s name and the specific individual,” wrote the researchers. “Upon hearing a cat’s name, the subjects expected the corresponding face.”

Diagram illustrating each condition in Experiment 1. Two model cats were chosen from cats living with the subject. The model cat’s name called by owner was played through the speaker built into the laptop computer (Name phase). Immediately after playback, a cat’s face appeared on the monitor (Face phase). On half of the trials the name and face matched (congruent condition), in the other half they mismatched (incongruent condition).


Cats from the cat cafés, however, showed no discernible difference in their reactions. The researchers hypothesize this is because the cafés cats are called their individual names less often than those in a home.

A second experiment sought to determine whether cats can recognize the names of their humans. As in the first experiment, household cats tended to look longer at the facial images of unknown people, suggesting they knew the names of their cat parents. This was especially true of cats from larger households and those that had lived in the household for a longer period. 

Saho Takagi, who helmed the study, believes the new findings are just the beginning.

“It’s been believed that cats are indifferent to things that don’t benefit them, but we’ve learned that they pay attention to the communication between their human and feline roommates,” Takagi told Japanese daily newspaper The Mainichi. “Going forward, I want to study how cats learn the names and faces of other cats.”

Takeaway: Don’t underestimate your cat. They may look like they’re ignoring you, but they are definitely listening.

*Want to increase the likelihood of your cat knowing your name? Science suggests hanging out with your cat as much as possible. The more time cat parents spend with their cats, the better cats can remember their humans’ names.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Cat magazine. Subscribe today!


Last Updated:

By: Modern Cat
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