You couldn’t hide from your cat even if you wanted to: here’s why

Hangai Lilla

2024. June 9 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Your cat can track you even when they are not on your heels like a faithful shadow. The authors of a recent study found that cats make what is known as a mental map, which gives them information about where people close to them are. They use sounds to do this.


Let’s take a look at how the cat knows where their owners are.

There’s a reason why this Abyssinian is so confident, they always knows where their owner is

Cats’ abilities have always been underestimated

The knowledge that something still exists, even if it is not visible, object permanence and cats have already proven that they possess it. In human infants, it usually develops at around 8 months of age. Becoming more sophisticated and fully developed by 10-12 months. At this stage, babies can find hidden objects and understand that their parents and carers do not disappear just because they are out of sight.

Previous research has shown the existence of object permanence in primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. As well as other animals such as meerkats, sloth bears, Malay bears and dogs, and of course cats. For the new study, it was decided to test the cats using sound signals. This is a good starting point, as they are known for their exceptional hearing and ability to find hidden prey in poor visibility.

The study’s lead author Saho Takagi, a PhD student at Kyoto University, and her team found that when cats heard their owners’ voices, they expected to see the owner’s face. Other studies have also shown that they can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar human voices and find hidden objects. So, it seemed likely that cats should be able to mentally map the location of others by sound alone.


How the cat knows where their owner is

For their experiments, they grouped the cats into three groups. Each group was divided into two parts depending on where the cats lived: in cat cafés or private homes. Animals in the groups listened to different combinations of sounds. The first group heard recordings of their carers or strangers saying their names. The second group listened to the sounds of other cats, and the third group listened to random electronic noises.

Researchers then played the sounds in two rounds. First through a loudspeaker near a door near the cats, then through a loudspeaker near a more distant door or window. Observers noted how surprised the cats were at the seemingly inexplicable change in the location of the sounds. Their level of surprise was rated on a scale of 0 to 4. According to the researchers, signs of surprise included the following. Staring towards the original position of the sound, moving their ears and head, looking around or looking around the room.

Overall, the cats were most surprised when the familiar voice of their owner suddenly changed location. The researchers suggest that this suggests that our pets formed a mental picture of their invisible masters and mapped their area based on where they first heard the sound, an “important feature of complex thinking”. Where we go from here is still unclear, but the finding could pave the way for future research into cat cognition, which is a huge step forward.

As we mentioned above, many times cats are underestimated. Click here to learn about one of their superpowers.

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