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Do Cats Listen to People?

A new study shows that cats do listen to people…sometimes.
Animation of a person shouting into a megaphone behind a cat who is asking in talk bubble if someone is talking to them
© Volodymyr Melnyk/, © Alexkalina/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Cats can be cuddly, but generally, they’re pretty independent. Unlike dogs, who seem to watch their humans’ every move, cats often do their own thing. Researchers wondered whether cats listen when humans speak. The answer, according to a 2022 study, seems to be yes and no.

Researchers in France studied 16 cats to see how they responded to two types of speech. The first was cat-directed speech (CDS), which describes how humans talk to their cats. The second was adult-directed speech (ADS), which describes how human adults talk to each other.

In the study, researchers played recordings of the cats’ owners and of strangers. In some of the recordings, the person was using CDS, which is sort of like a high-pitched, sweet tone that people often use when talking to pets. In other recordings, the person used ADS, which is deeper in tone. The cats reacted much more strongly when they heard their owners’ voices, as opposed to strangers’ voices, particularly if they heard their name. The cats also responded strongly when they heard CDS. Cats didn’t react strongly when they heard ADS.

Researchers say this suggests that cats do recognize their owners’ voices—and they pay attention when their human family members are talking to them. But when human family members talk to each other, cats don’t really listen. 


Black History Month

A GIF that scrolls through the portraits of many well known and influential Black Americans

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-08978, LC-USW3-001546-D, LC-USZ62-127236, LC-USZ62-27663); Addison N. Scurlock—Michael Ochs Archives, Kean Collection—Archive Photos, © Michael Ochs Archives, Evan Agostini/Getty Images; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. (object no. 2009.50.2); PRNewsFoto/XM Satellite Radio/AP Images; AP Images;  NASA; National Archives, Washington, D.C. (2803441); Pete Souza—Official White House Photo; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

February is Black History Month in the United States. Want to read more? Check out the January 31 edition of In the News!

Did You Know?

Side by side photos of statues of cats in regal attire.

Brooklyn Museum, New York, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.379E, 05.339 (CC BY 3.0); Composite image Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

These two sculptures of the feline goddess Bastet date back to ancient Egypt.
Cats were so highly respected in ancient Egypt that some Egyptian goddesses were depicted in the form of cats. It’s possible that cats were valued because they kept rodents away from places where grains were stored.

Cats' Hunting Tools

© yavdat—Creatas Video+/Getty Images Plus

You probably know that cats have whiskers on their faces. Some whiskers look like a moustache, and others like bushy eyebrows. Cats also have whiskers on their chins. Whiskers contain nerves that help cats sense their surroundings while hunting. (Yes, cats are natural hunters, which is why they may sharpen their claws on furniture and pounce on moving objects, including humans.)

What many people don’t know is that cats also have whiskers on the backs of their front legs. Like other whiskers, the whiskers on the legs, called carpal vibrissae, help cats sense their surroundings. But carpal vibrissae have a specialized function. When a cat is holding prey between its front paws, they help the cat to sense exactly how to go in for the kill.

Talking Cats

Portraits of various cat breeds
© MirasWonderland—iStock/Getty Images

Cats have a body language all their own.
Learn more about how cats communicate at Britannica School!



: resembling or suggesting that of a lion
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