Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 639-648

First online:

Social referencing and cat–human communication

  • I. MerolaAffiliated withDipartimento di Fisiopatologia Medico-Chirurgica e dei Trapianti, Sezione di Neuroscienze, Università degli Studi di MilanoSchool of Life Sciences, Joseph Bank Laboratories, University of Lincoln Email author 
  • , M. LazzaroniAffiliated withDipartimento di Fisiopatologia Medico-Chirurgica e dei Trapianti, Sezione di Neuroscienze, Università degli Studi di Milano
  • , S. Marshall-PesciniAffiliated withDipartimento di Fisiopatologia Medico-Chirurgica e dei Trapianti, Sezione di Neuroscienze, Università degli Studi di MilanoComparative Cognition, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna
  • , E. Prato-PrevideAffiliated withDipartimento di Fisiopatologia Medico-Chirurgica e dei Trapianti, Sezione di Neuroscienze, Università degli Studi di Milano

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Cats’ (Felis catus) communicative behaviour towards humans was explored using a social referencing paradigm in the presence of a potentially frightening object. One group of cats observed their owner delivering a positive emotional message, whereas another group received a negative emotional message. The aim was to evaluate whether cats use the emotional information provided by their owners about a novel/unfamiliar object to guide their own behaviour towards it. We assessed the presence of social referencing, in terms of referential looking towards the owner (defined as looking to the owner immediately before or after looking at the object), the behavioural regulation based on the owner’s emotional (positive vs negative) message (vocal and facial), and the observational conditioning following the owner’s actions towards the object. Most cats (79 %) exhibited referential looking between the owner and the object, and also to some extent changed their behaviour in line with the emotional message given by the owner. Results are discussed in relation to social referencing in other species (dogs in particular) and cats’ social organization and domestication history.

Keywords

Social referencing Cats Gaze alternation Social learning Human–cat communication