Cats found to track owner's movements even when they cannot see them

Fig 1. A test room arrangement. The cats' homes (cat cafe or house) had slight differences in the arrangement of testing rooms. Speaker 1 was placed outside the test area and speaker 2 in the test space close to another door, window or opening leading outside. The Experimenter left the cats alone so that they could freely move around. During tests, video cameras captured cat behaviors. Credit: DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257611
Researchers from several Japanese universities discovered that cats can track where their owners are even though they cannot see them. The group published a paper in PLOS One that describes the experiments they did with cats, recordings of voices, and the lessons they learned.

According to anecdotal evidence, cats can be ambivalent about the activities going on around them in their daily lives with humans. Exceptions tend to be around food time. Researchers had an inkling that cats might be more interested in human caregivers than previously thought. They conducted a series experiments to see if this was true. The experiment involved placing cats into enclosures with speakers and listening to their reactions.

The experiment involved 50 domestic cats and their owners, who were enlisted to help. They were then divided into three groups. The three groups were further divided into cafe cats and house cats. Each cat was then placed in a small enclosure with a speaker. A second speaker was added to the enclosure. The speakers were placed outside the enclosure.

The researchers then played sound in pairs. One pair was sent to an enclosure speaker, while the other was sent outside. The researchers asked volunteers to rate each cat's surprise as they played the sounds.

The researchers looked at the data and discovered that the cats seemed to be surprised to hear the voice of their owners first inside their enclosure, then suddenly outside it. This event suggested that the human had teleported from one place to the next instantly. The cats' surprise at being contacted suggested that they were trying to track their human by creating a mental map of the environment, which also included humans who lived with them.

Explore more. There are almost a quarter million cats unowned in UK cities.

More information: Saho Tabagi et al., Socio-spatial cognition for cats: Mentally mapping the owner's location using voice, PLOS One (2021). Information from the Journal: PLoS ONE Saho Takagi et. al. Socio-spatial cognition: Mentally mapping owner’s location using voice, (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257611

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