If cats were humans, they would be the type to always “leave you on read.” In other words, despite all of our love and devotion, our cats can definitely sometimes make us wonder if they even care about us at all. Do cats really bond with their humans, or do they see us just as walking can openers?
Recent research is turning these cat stereotypes upside-down, though. A study in 2019 found that cats are way more attached to their humans than we give them credit for, and a new study published in PLOS One suggests that our cats are actually pretty tuned in to what their people are up to when we’re home.
A team of Japanese researchers, led by Saho Takagi from the department of psychology at Kyoto University, found that our cats track our whereabouts by using environmental cues. So, even when we aren’t in the room with them, our cats are paying attention to where we might be in the house.
In the experiment, researchers took recordings of owners calling their cats’ names as well as the voices of strangers. They also played recordings of non-verbal sounds and the sounds of other cats. Then, they played these recordings for the cats and observed their reactions to the different sounds.
Most notably, they found that the cats demonstrated great surprise when they heard their owner’s voice in the room with them, even when they had previously witnessed their owner leaving the room. This suggests that even when we leave our cat’s presence, they are still mentally mapping where they think we are.
“Results showed that cats were surprised when their owner appeared to be ‘teleported’ to a new, unexpected location, but they did not react in the same way when tested with non-social stimuli,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest that cats hold a mental representation of the unseen owner and map their owner’s location from the owner’s voice, showing evidence of socio-spatial cognition.”
So even if your cat seems aloof, she might be paying close attention to exactly where you are.
That means they sort of have to like us, right? I mean, they wouldn’t mentally map us if they didn’t care about us, right? Right?