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Researchers Charlotte de Mouzon and Gérard Leboucher from the Laboratoire Ethologie Cognition Développement, Université Paris Nanterre in France, have examined the preferred feline etiquette when confronted with an unknown human. In the article, “Multimodal communication in the human-cat relationship: a pilot study,” published in animalsThe researchers examined four modes of human interaction (vocal, visual, bimodal, and no communication control) with a dozen cats living in cat cafes.
Twelve cats living in two cat cafes in Bordeaux and Toulouse, France, were observed during the study, narrowed down from a group of 18. The six not included in the study were either too wary of humans or just didn’t bother to interact. with them. them.
By analyzing videos of cat-human interactions, the research team found that the mode of communication significantly affected the time it took the cats to approach the human experimenter. Cats interacted significantly faster with visual and bimodal communication than with vocal communication alone and a control condition of no communication.
In addition, the mode of communication had a significant effect on tail wagging behavior. Cats wagged significantly more tails when the experimenter engaged in the no-communication control compared to visual and bimodal modes of communication, indicating to the researchers that they were less comfortable in this control condition. The cats also showed more tail movement in response to vocal communication than bimodal communication.
The experiment was carried out in the quiet of the morning before the café opened to the public. Two experimenters were present in the cafe. Experimenter 1 was seated and engaged in communication according to each test condition. Experimenter 2 recorded a video of the interactions and remained still during the experiments. For each test, the cat entered the room with the cat’s owner (cafe owners in both locations), who was asked not to communicate with the cat. Next, the test conditions were started.
the four modes
In the no-communication control, experimenter 1 did not look at or speak to the cat. She stood still and did not offer her hand. Six cats were still curious enough to approach the experimenter.
With vocal communication, experimenter 1 alternated calling the cat by name and making cat-specific calling noises, described in the article as “…a kind of ‘pff pff’ sound, widely used by French humans to call to the cats”, but he did not. I offered him my hand and looked up to avoid eye contact. Seven cats responded to the calls by approaching, only one more having no communication.
Ten was approached in visual mode, where the experimenter silently offered her hand to the cat and alternated looking at the cat with looking at the ground. Because eye narrowing can be perceived as positive communication between cats and humans, Experimenter 1 maintained a neutral gaze with slow blink sequences.
A fourth mode of bimodal communication (visual and vocal) had experimenter 1 offer his hand to the cat and alternate between looking at the cat (slow blinking) and looking at the ground while also calling the cat’s name and doing French. -specific noises of cat calls. Nine cats were approached, meaning either a greater response to calls from cats with a visual component or a decrease compared to just visual cues only.
Throughout the test conditions, experimenter 1 hid treats in his pocket but did not offer the treat unless the cat came within a distance of 10 cm. If the cat did not approach experimenter 1 within 75 seconds, it was taken away and received a treat at the door. While it’s not clear what role the treats play in the overall study design, it’s common to reward subjects for participating in an experimental trial, though usually in human trials.
Forty-eight video clips, one video for each test condition per cat, were generated and coded using Behavioral Observation Research Interactive Software (BORIS). Statistical analysis was performed to compare the responses of the cats to the different test conditions using the Friedman rank sum test, a method widely used in computational biology.
Contrary to predictions when designing the study, the cats found visual comunication more attractive than voice communication started by an unknown human. This may indicate a good study design when the results ignore potential prediction bias.
The results suggest that cats they show a marked preference for visual and bimodal cues when approached by unfamiliar humans compared to vocal cues. The authors speculate that this observation could serve as the basis for practical recommendations for navigating the codes of human-cat interactions.
Charlotte de Mouzon et al, Multimodal communication in the human-cat relationship: a pilot study, animals (2023). DOI: 10.3390/ani13091528
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