In contemporary western cultures, most humans talk to their pet companions. Speech register addressed to companion animals shares common features with speech addressed to young children, which are distinct from the typical adult-directed speech (ADS). The way dogs respond to dog-directed speech (DDS) has raised scientists’ interest. In contrast, much less is known about how cats perceive and respond to cat-directed speech (CDS). The primary aim of this study was to evaluate whether cats are more responsive to CDS than ADS. Secondarily, we seek to examine if the cats’ responses to human vocal stimuli would differ when it was elicited by their owner or by a stranger. We performed playback experiments and tested a cohort of 16 companion cats in a habituation–dishabituation paradigm, which allows for the measurement of subjects’ reactions without extensive training. Here, we report new findings that cats can discriminate speech specifically addressed to them from speech addressed to adult humans, when sentences are uttered by their owners. When hearing sentences uttered by strangers, cats did not appear to discriminate between ADS and CDS. These findings bring a new dimension to the consideration of human–cat relationship, as they imply the development of a particular communication into human–cat dyads, that relies upon experience. We discuss these new findings in the light of recent literature investigating cats’ sociocognitive abilities and human–cat attachment. Our results highlight the importance of one-to-one relationships for cats, reinforcing recent literature regarding the ability for cats and humans to form strong bonds.
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We would like to thank MARTIN SELLIER® for their financial support. Thanks to Caroline Gilbert for allowing this study to take place at EnvA and to Laëtitia Matray for helping in the recruitment of cat owners. Thanks to Chloé Tavernier and Alexandre Clasen for their participation in these experiments. Many thanks to owners and to their cats, who accepted to take part in this study.
This research was supported by French ministry of higher education and research (Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Innovation) and MARTIN SELLIER® company, through the CIFRE program.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in the present study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed and all procedures performed in experiments involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the study was conducted. The study received the approval of the ethical committee of EnvA (COMERC), Saisine n 2018-10-24.
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de Mouzon, C., Gonthier, M. & Leboucher, G. Discrimination of cat-directed speech from human-directed speech in a population of indoor companion cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn 26, 611–619 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w