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

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Berns GS, Brooks AM, Spivak M (2012) Functional MRI in awake unrestrained dogs. PLoS One 7:e38027

    PubMed  CAS  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bernstein PL (2007) The human–cat relationship. The Welfare of Cats. Springer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  3. Buttelmann D, Tomasello M (2013) Can domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) use referential emotional expressions to locate hidden food? Anim Cogn 16:137–145

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Casey RA, Bradshaw JWS (2008) The effects of additional socialization for kittens in a rescue centre on their behaviour and suitability as a pet. Appl Anim Behav Sci 114:196–205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Collard RR (1967) Fear of strangers and play behavior in kittens with varied social experience. Child Dev 38:877–891

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Custance D, Mayer J (2012) Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: an exploratory study. Anim Cogn 15:851–900

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Deputte BL, Doll A (2011) Do dogs understand human facial expressions? J Vet Behav 6:78–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Driscoll C, Menotti-Ryamond M, Roca AL, Hupe K, Johnson WE, Geffen E, Harley EH, Delibes M, Pontier D, Kitchener AC, Yamaguchi N, O’Brien SJ, Macdonald DW (2007) The near eastern origin of cat domestication. Science 317:519–522

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Driscoll C, Clutton-Brock J, Kitchener AC, O’Brien SJ (2009) The taming of the cat. Sci Am 300:68–75

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Druzhkova AS, Thalmann O, Trifonov VA, Leonard JA, Vorobieva NV, Ovodov ND, Graphodatsky AS, Wayne RK (2013) Ancient DNA analysis affirms the canid from altai as a primitive dog. PLoS One 8:e57754

    PubMed  CAS  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Edwards C, Heiblum M, Tejeda A, Galindo F (2007) Experimental evaluation of attachment behaviors in owned cats. J Vet Behav Clin Appl Res 2:119–125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ekman P, Friesen W (1975) Unmasking the face: a guide to recognizing emotions from facial expressions. Malor Books, Englewood Cliffs

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fay R (1988) Hearing in vertebrates: a psychophysics datebook. Hill-Fay Associates, Winnetka

    Google Scholar 

  14. Feinman S (1982) Social referencing in infancy. Merrill-Palmer Q J Dev Psychol 28:445–470

    Google Scholar 

  15. Fogle B (2007) The encyclopedia of the dog. DK Publishing, New York

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hare B, Tomasello M (2005) Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends Cogn Sci 9:439–444

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hare B, Brown M, Williamson C, Tomasello M (2002) The domestication of social cognition in dogs. Science 298:1634–1636

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hare B, Rosati A, Kaminski J, Bräuer J, Call J, Tomasello M (2010) The domestication hypothesis for dogs’ skills with human communication: a response to udell et al. (2008) and wynne et al. (2008). Anim Behav 79:e1–e6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Joly-Mascheroni RM, Senju A, Shepherd AJ (2008) Dogs catch human yawns. Biol Lett 4:446–448

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kaminski J, Pitsch A, Tomasello M (2013) Dogs steal in the dark. Anim Cogn 16:385–394

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Karsh EB (1983) The effects of early and late handling on attachment of cats to humans. Conference Proceedings. Globe Press, St. Paul

    Google Scholar 

  22. Karsh EB, Turner DC (1988) The human–cat relationship. In: Turner D, Bateson P (eds) The domestic cat: the biology of its behavior. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 159–178

    Google Scholar 

  23. Leyhausen P (1979) Cat behavior: the predatory and social behavior of domestic and wild cats (trans. Tonkin B). Garland, New York

    Google Scholar 

  24. Mayes EE, Wilkinson A, Pike TW, Mills DS (2015) Individual differences in visual and olfactory cue preference and use by cats (felis catus). Appl Anim Behav Sci. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2015.01.003

    Google Scholar 

  25. Merola I, Prato-previde E, Marshall-Pescini S (2012) Social referencing in dog-owner dyads? Anim Cogn 15:175–185

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Merola I, Prato-Previde E, Lazzaroni M, Marshall-Pescini S (2014) Dogs’ comprehension of referential emotional expressions: familiar people and familiar emotions are easier. Anim Cogn 17:373–385

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Merola I, Lazzaroni M, Marshall-Pescini S, Prato-Previde E (2015) Social referencing and cat–human communication. Anim Cogn 3:639–648

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Miklósi Á, Topál J (2012) The evolution of canine cognition. In: Vonk J, Shackelford TK (eds) The Oxford handbook of comparative evolutionary psychology. Oxford University Press Inc, New York, pp 194–213

    Google Scholar 

  29. Miklósi Á, Pongrácz P, Lakatos G, Topál J, Csányi V (2005) A comparative study of the use of visual communicative signals in interactions between dogs (Canis familiaris) and humans and cats (Felis catus) and humans. J Comp Psychol 119:179–180

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Muller W (2002) The first steps of animal domestication. Oxbow Books, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  31. Muller CA, Schmitt K, Barber ALA, Huber L (2015) Dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. Curr Biol 25:601–605

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Ovodov ND, Crockford SJ, Kuzmin YV, Higham TF, Hodgins GW, van der Plicht J (2011) A 33,000-year-old incipient dog from the Altai mountains of Siberia: Evidence of the earliest domestication disrupted by the last glacial maximum. PLoS One 6:e57754

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Saito A, Shinozuka K (2013) Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn 16:685–690

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. The Humane Society of the United States (2011) U.S. pet ownership statistics. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html

  35. Trut LN (1999) Early canid domestication: the farm-fox experiment. Am Sci 87:160–169

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Turner DC (1991) The ethology of the human–cat relationship. Swiss Arch Vet Med 133:63–70

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. Udell MAR, Wynne CDL (2008) A review of domestic dogs’ (Canis familiaris) human-like behaviors: or why behavior analysts should stop worrying and love their dogs. J Exp Anal Behav 89:247–261

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Udell MAR, Dorey NR, Wynne CDL (2010) What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions. Biol Rev 85:327–345

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Vitale Shreve KR, Udell MAR (2015) What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of cat (Felis silvestris catus) cognition research past, present and future. Anim Cogn. doi:10.1007/s10071-015-0897-6

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Warfield D (1973) The study of hearing in animals. Academic Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  41. Zasloff RL (1996) Measuring attachment to companion animals: a dog is not a cat is not a bird. Appl Anim Behav Sci 47:43–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Zasloff RL, Kidd AH (1994) Attachment to feline companions. Psychol Rep 74:747–752

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer Vonk.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 1.

Table 1 Behavioral ethogram (modified from Leyhausen 1979)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Galvan, M., Vonk, J. Man’s other best friend: domestic cats (F. silvestris catus) and their discrimination of human emotion cues. Anim Cogn 19, 193–205 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0927-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Domestic cats
  • Human emotion
  • Communicative cues
  • Companion animal