Cat gazing towards the leftside.

Credit: Pixabay.

Cats are known for being aloof, independent, moody, and quite capricious. But just because they’re not as eager to please as dogs, doesn’t mean they won’t respond.

However, there are better ways to improve your chances of connecting with a friendly feline, just as there are better ways to address people. Cue French scientists who have just published a new study outlining the most effective way to call an unknown cat and not get hit with “seen.”

Signal cats with voice and gestures

The team of researchers from the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology and Cognition at the University of Paris Nanterre analyzed the behavior of 12 charming felines who lived in a local cat cafe.

Charlotte de Mouzon, the study’s lead author and a cat expert, first made sure the furry subjects felt comfortable in her presence. Once the cats had become accustomed to the researcher, each participating cat was placed inside a room, one by one, where de Mouzon interacted with the cats in four different scenarios:

  • Calling the cat simply by using your voice. It should be noted here that the French call cats using a “pff pff” sound pronounced in a kissing tone, rather than the “pspsps” call that English speakers often employ.
  • Gesturing towards the cat but no sound.
  • Both vocalizing and gesturing towards the cat.
  • Just sitting inactive without vocal or gestural stimuli. This last condition acted as the study control that would serve as a comparison baseline for the effects of the three previous scenarios.

It turns out that the French scientist was most frequently approached when she was simultaneously gesturing and expressing the felines. That was quite expected, but what surprised everyone was that the cats responded faster during the visual cue only test compared to the audio cue scenario.

Earlier, de Mouzon published research showing that domestic cats can easily distinguish the voice of their owners from the voice of a stranger. Also, house cats are even more receptive when their owners address them in a familiar “baby talk” tone.

The fact that unfamiliar cats were more responsive to visual cues was particularly unexpected, especially considering that cats are widely believed to be not as good as dogs at following gestures. However, it may be that cats respond very differently to strangers than they do to their familiar owners.

“You can see that it is not the same. It is not the same for a cat to communicate with its owner as it is to communicate with an unknown human,” de Mouzon said. gizmodo.

“It’s good to have the results you expect. But sometimes it is also good to have results that you do not expect, because it makes you think and formulate new hypotheses that try to get to what is really happening.

Look for the tail wagging for clues if it’s doing it right.

Another interesting and unexpected result was that cats wagged their tails more frequently during the vocal cue scenario and more frequently during the control scenario when the cats were ignored.

Dogs often wag their tails when they are positively excited and happy (especially if the tail is wagging to the right). But for cats, this is the opposite, as they normally wag their tails when stressed and uncomfortable.

This behavior may also be limited to interactions between cats and strangers. Just like people, cats can become anxious around humans when they can’t easily read their intentions. A stranger looking for pets is easy to read, but a human simply avoiding the cat is unpredictable and perhaps a little scary.

Although intriguing, this study may have raised more questions about feline communication than it answered. That’s why the team plans to conduct a new round of tests using the same visual and auditory cues, this time involving owners and their family cats.

The findings appeared in the journal animals.