Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 193-205

First online:

Man’s other best friend: domestic cats (F. silvestris catus) and their discrimination of human emotion cues

  • Moriah GalvanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Oakland University
  • , Jennifer VonkAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Oakland University Email author 

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Abstract

The ability of domestic dogs (C. lupus famaliaris) to follow and attend to human emotion expressions is well documented. It is unknown whether domestic cats (F. silvestris catus) possess similar abilities. Because cats belong to the same order (Carnivora), but did not evolve to live in complex social groups, research with them enables us to tease apart the influence of social structure versus domestication processes on the capacity to recognize human communicative cues, such as emotions. Two experiments were conducted to determine the extent to which domestic cats discriminate between human emotion cues. The first experiment presented cats with facial and postural cues of happiness and anger from both an unfamiliar experimenter and their familiar owner in the absence of vocal cues. The second experiment presented cats with vocal cues of human emotion through a positively or negatively charged conversation between an experimenter and owner. Domestic cats were only modestly sensitive to emotion, particularly when displayed by their owner, suggesting that a history of human interaction alone may not be sufficient to shape such abilities in domestic cats.

Keywords

Domestic cats Human emotion Communicative cues Companion animal