Want a Cat to Come to You? Do These 2 Things

Researchers find cats come up to strangers more quickly when both visual, verbal cues are used
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2023 6:00 AM CDT
Here's How You Can Get a Cat to Pay Attention to You
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Irina Gutyryak)

A group of researchers out of France took a deep dive into "the nuances of cat-human conversation," with some expected findings and some a little more surprising. For their study published last week in the journal Animals, a research team out of Paris Nanterre University led by Charlotte de Mouzon wanted to see if cats responded better to people if the humans involved used visual gestures, vocal cues, or both. De Mouzon selected herself as the main participant, heading into a cat cafe with a dozen felines, where she first eased her way into the room so the cats could get accustomed to her being there.

Then, the experiment really started. De Mouzon—deemed an "all-around cat person" by ZME Science—tried four different ways of interacting with her furry subjects. First, she called out to them only. Second, she silently made gestures toward them, such as reaching out her hand. Next, she tried doing both a vocal and visual cue simultaneously, and finally, for the control part of the experiment, she just sat back and did nothing. One relatively unsurprising result: The cats in de Mouzon's study came up to her more quickly if she used both visual and vocal cues.

A surprising result: Cats reacted faster to de Mouzon when she used visual cues alone than they did when she simply called out to them. The scientists also found that cats tended to wag their tails—often a sign of discomfort or stress in cats—when de Mouzon wasn't saying or doing anything, meaning the cats perhaps felt ignored by her. "It's nice to have the results that you expect," she tells Gizmodo. "But sometimes it's also nice to have results that you don't expect, because it makes you think and form new hypotheses that try to get at what's really going on."

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De Mouzon would like to replicate the study using house cats, to see if perhaps pets would respond more quickly to vocal cues than visual ones if the voice were coming from their owner, not a stranger. She's definitely well versed in the arena of human-cat communications: Last year, her team published a study that showed cats not only could tell their owner's voice apart from a stranger's, but also that cats could tell when their owner was talking directly to them. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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