Mentally mapping location: cats keep an eye on their owners, even if they can’t be seen

    23 Nov 2021

    Scientists from Japan conducted an experiment that showed that cats can know where their owner is, even if they cannot see it. The study involved 23 cats and 27 cats between four and six years old.

    27 animals lived in a cat cafe, and the rest were domestic. Scientists used it as a stimulus for them recording with the voice of the owner or guardian, who calls the animal by name. At first, the recorded voice of the owner (or guardian) calling the animal by name was used as a stimulus, and for control his or the voice of a stranger. The animals themselves were alone in the room, from different ends of which these audio recordings were played to them, and the audio was set to them from different angles. When the pets heard their name, the study evaluated their response to the movements of the ears and head.

    The animals were most confused when they first heard a voice from one side of the room and then from the other.

    Eight “experts” (four men and four women) assessed the pets’ responses to the movements of the ears and head based on the video.

    “Perhaps they mentally mapped the owner’s location when they heard his voice in the ‘addictive phase’ and were amazed at his ‘impossible teleportation’ at the next stage,” the scientists say.

    Researchers speculate that cats have ideas about their owners related to their voice rather than their appearance. This indicates their previously unknown cognitive abilities.

    In the experiment without “teleportation,” the animals did not show a strong reaction to the voice, nor were they very surprised when they heard strangers or the meows of other cats.

    The cats were bewildered when their man, it seemed to them, “teleported” to a new, unexpected place. However, they did not react in the same way to strangers or other animals.

    Cat owners know firsthand: wherever you go, a curious pet will follow. But, as it turned out, the cat does not even need to see him to know where the owner is, since he keeps a mental picture of a loved one. This was confirmed by the experiments of Japanese scientists from the University of Kyoto, whose research was published in the PLOS One magazine.

    Cats have excellent hearing – thanks largely to 32 muscles in each ear, allowing them to move in all directions – and can locate prey by sound in poor visibility conditions. The hearing range of these predators is from 55 hertz to 79 kilohertz. These anatomical features help to cognitively process information from surrounding sounds and recognize the physical presence of someone. For example, previous studies have shown that cats expect to see their owner’s face when they hear a voice (and unmistakably identify it from many others) and can predict what will happen next based on hearing.

    It turned out that cats have “facial expressions,” but not all people can understand it.

    The results showed that cats were most confused when their owner’s voice was first heard from one side of the room and then from the other.

    When the animals were turned on to record an unfamiliar voice, they were not too surprised and when playing meows of other cats or ordinary electronic sounds (not voices).

    According to scientists, the subjects did not show a strong reaction since in subsequent experiments – without the participation of the owners – there was no “impossible teleportation.” Cats simply reacted to sound from an unexpected place but did so in different ways. This behavior was in stark contrast to what was observed in the first experiment.

    “Our discovery suggests that cats have mental representations of their ‘invisible’ host associated with their voice. This indicates previously unknown socio-spatial cognitive abilities, ”summed up the authors of the work.


    Settling on the planet, cats were among the hundreds of the worst invasive species. They are fierce fighters of the local fauna, and this is the dark side of feline expansion. The problem is the number of stray cats. And, for example, the most painful things for countries like Iraq in this context are the lack of a sterilization program.

    Do you want to know more about cats? Check here!

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