It’s no secret that pet owners are passionate about their furry friends.
They spend time with them every day, playing with them, and sometimes even eating with them.
But when a cat decides to come to you for a hug, the next step is a lot more complicated.
If the cat isn’t too busy doing the things you asked him to do, he’ll also often pick up on the subtlety of your expression, his tail wagging and body language.
Now a research team at the University of California, San Francisco has found that if your cat is picking up on your body language, he can predict whether you’re going to come for a visit.
Their findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“When you give your cat something to do or give him a treat, you’re basically giving him a reward,” says study co-author Suresh Kumar, a professor of animal behavior and ecology at UC San Francisco.
“So what we found was that if you are using a very positive expression of affection to communicate, you can predict when he will want to come back for you.
This was actually quite surprising.”
In one study, researchers asked volunteers to watch a video of someone talking to their cat and then had the cat play with the cat for a few minutes.
If he heard the positive words, he was more likely to come play with you, as well as to reward the cat with food and treats.
However, if the words were negative, he wasn’t interested in playing with you and he wasn: The researchers asked the volunteers to guess whether the cat had heard the negative words or whether he had just noticed that the words didn’t make sense.
In other words, they wanted to see if his cat was learning to pick up subtle differences between positive and negative words.
The researchers found that the cat who heard positive words was more attracted to you, and when he heard negative words, it was more reluctant to play with or even visit you.
That’s not the only surprising finding in this study.
“Our results suggest that positive expressions of affection might actually help our cat to learn the meaning of words,” Kumar says.
“And our results suggest it’s a pretty good thing to do.”
So how does your cat pick up the subtle differences in words?
In the study, the researchers focused on the vocalizations of different cats.
They asked the cats to perform two tasks: one in which they played with a toy and one in a quiet room.
One of the tasks involved using the toy to pick out one of the words from the video, while the other involved trying to identify one of them.
When a cat was able to recognize the word “pet” from the videos, he then picked it up and interacted with the toy.
“It’s not that he can’t recognize the words that we’re talking about, but he’s doing it unconsciously,” Kumar explains.
“He’s not picking up the meaning behind the words.”
The researchers then asked the researchers to play another task: They had the cats use their ears to identify which words they wanted the cat to pick.
The cats were also given different toys to pick, and the researchers played one of these videos over and over again to gauge their reaction.
The animals who were more responsive were more likely, as expected, to pick the word from the positive videos.
However when the researchers put a toy in front of the cats, the cats stopped picking the words out of the video altogether.
The same is true when the cats were given different kinds of food: The cats who picked the word were more receptive when they had been given a carrot and not a piece of fruit.
“This suggests that the positive affect of the positive vocalizations might be influencing the neural mechanisms underlying the learning process,” Kumar adds.
It’s important to note that the study is not saying that the cats picked up on subtle differences or that the negative actions were deliberate, but that the researchers were interested in finding the neural pathways involved in the vocalization of positive words.
“We think that the vocalized meaning of the videos might actually be able to influence how our cats feel toward us,” Kumar concludes.
“These findings are interesting because it suggests that cats may use their vocalizations to tell us about the meanings of our actions, even when we’re not actively aware of them.”
You can read more about this study and the research on positive cat communication at the journal.
The authors are Surese Bhattacharya, Aditi R. Gupta, and Nadeem N. Khanna.
“The vocalization signals of cat to cat interaction: A behavioral paradigm.”
PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115097.