Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 193–205 | Cite as

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

  • Moriah Galvan
  • Jennifer VonkEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Domestic cats Human emotion Communicative cues Companion animal 



The authors declare no competing interests. The studies comply with the ethical standards of the IACUC of Oakland University. We would like to thank all of the humans and felines who have contributed in various ways to this set of experiments. Special thanks go to Zoe Johnson-Ulrich, Jennifer Hamilton, and Molly McGuire for their assistance with data collection, and Jonathan Saulter, Audrey Robeson, Laina Townsend, and Ellen Searle for their assistance with coding. Thanks to Lisa Welling for helpful comments on the MS thesis on which this publication is based.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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