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Do Cats Know Their Names?

In the words of author Mary Bly, "dogs come when they're called; cats take a message and get back to you later." But according to a Japanese researcher who has spent years studying our feline friends, cats are much more attentive than we give them credit for. Basing her study on 78 cats living in "cat cafes" across Japan, psychologist Atsuko Saito found that not only do cats know their names, but they recognize them even when they're spoken by someone they don't know. The research included four experiments and involved both owners and strangers saying not only the cats' names but also similar-sounding names and the names of other nearby cats, as well. While it will come as no surprise to any cat owner that cats don't respond with quite the same enthusiasm that many dogs exhibit, Saito explained that it's not a fair comparison: Dogs are expected to know their names and come when called, and they are bred and raised to do exactly that. On the other hand, evolutionary history shows that cats came to us, essentially training themselves to adapt to our expectations. Historically, people haven't interacted with cats in a way that required name recognition, so it took longer for that to occur. Besides proving that cats know their names, Saito has also found that cats have learned to find hidden food by watching people's gestures and begging for treats from someone who says their name while looking at them.

The feline brain:

  • A cat's cerebral cortex is far more complex than a dog's, with almost twice as many nerve cells.
  • Cats meow to communicate with people, not with other cats.
  • Human and cat brain structures are remarkably similar, especially in areas devoted to learning, information processing, and decision-making.
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