Cats Recognize Names

Despite being one of the most popular pets, house cats remain mysterious to many. It is apparent when they are hungry, but at other times, it is unclear that they are paying attention to much at all. Now, researchers in Japan say that the famously aloof creatures may connect their feline housemates with the names they are called. They may even make this association with humans, too.

The researchers looked at cats living in homes with two or more other cats, and at cats living in cat cafes, usually in bigger groups. Each cat was shown an image of a cat they know while correct and incorrect names were called. When the name did not match the cat they were looking at, house cats tended to look for longer. This reaction indicates that cats were not seeing and hearing what they expected. In other words, they were experiencing some confusion.

A cat in a cat cafe

A cat in a cat cafe (source)

Cats that live in cat cafes did not react in the same way. The researchers suggest that this is because cafe cats get called a variety of names, meaning there is less opportunity for the cats to hear one name repeated, and therefore to learn it.

The researchers also tried to find out if cats know human names. The results were not as clear, but the cats that had lived with a group of humans for longer seemed to have connected faces with names better.

Until a mind-reading tool is invented, we won’t know for sure what cats think about, but at least it seems like they associate names with faces after hearing them enough.

Sources: nature.com, finance.yahoo.com, zmescience.com, mainichi.jp

For source links, see the article on ESLNewsStories.com

Worksheet with activities

Audio

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Useful Language

  • Despite (prep) - shows a contrast between two facts
  • Apparent (adj) - clear, easy to recognize
  • Pay attention to (idiom) - to focus on
  • Aloof (adj) - not friendly
  • Creature (n) - a living thing
  • Feline (n) - a cat, or cat-like
  • Housemate (n) - someone who lives in the same house
  • Association (n) - a connection or relationship
  • Cat cafe (n) - a cafe where several cats permanently live
  • Indicate (v) - to show

Discussion

Discuss the following questions with your partner(s).

  1. What do you think of the research results? Are they surprising?
  2. Have you spent time with a pet cat? What was its personality like? Could you tell what it was thinking?
  3. Cats and dogs are both popular pets. What are the differences between these two animals?
  4. Have you been to a cat cafe? How was it? If not, would you like to go to one?
  5. How many pets have you had throughout your life? Can you remember their names?
  6. What are some of the pet names that you know? Are pet names always different from human names?
  7. If we could read animal’s minds, what do you think we would learn?
  8. Do you remember people’s names well? How? If not, what do you do when you can’t remember a person’s name?
  9. Why do humans keep animals as pets?
  10. What kind of pet would you like to get? What is stopping you?