Cat experts suggest that using “baby talk” could effectively grab your cat's attention. Getting your pet’s attention is as simple as speaking with a high-pitched tone and extended vowels, just like how you would communicate with a human baby.
The study in Animal Cognition, suggested that your cat can actually tell you apart from strangers. During the experiment, no amount of baby talk from a stranger could grab a cat’s attention—instead, the effect seems to be reserved for owners.
Lead author Charlotte de Mouzon and her team at Paris Nanterre University’s Laboratory of Compared Ethology and Cognition have been studying the intricacies of cat-human relationships.
Proving that cats recognize their humans’ voices
To get these results, de Mouzon and her team worked with 16 cats between the ages of 8 months and 2 years old. The pets belonged to students who attend the National Veterinary School in Alfort, France, according to New Scientist’s Christa Lesté-Lasserre.
The team conducting research asked the owners to record themselves asking questions such as “Do you want to play?” or a pet favorite, “Do you want a treat?” They did so twice: Once in pet-directed speech, and once regularly as they would talk to another human adult. Then, they asked 16 female strangers to record the same questions.
The cats were then played the recordings in their own homes with their owner present but not interacting with them, according to New Scientist.
In one experiment, the researchers played five recordings for each cat. The first three recordings and the last recording were of the owner using adult-directed speech, while the fourth was of the owner’s pet-directed speech. The researchers graded the intensity of the cats’ reactions—including dilated pupils, turning their ears, pausing activity or moving toward the voice—on a scale from zero to 20.
On average, the cats’ responsiveness decreased as each of the first three recordings played, but their attention rebounded significantly with the pet-directed speech, per Science. It dropped again when the final recording of adult-directed speech played.
When researchers tried the same with a recording of a stranger, the cats were even disinterested when the pet-directed speech played. Scientists theorized that this could be because the pets were indoor animals and therefore didn’t have many opportunities to interact with people they were unfamiliar with.
ANIMAL COGNITION: Discrimination of cat-directed speech from human-directed speech in a population of indoor companion cats (Felis catus)
NEW SCIENTIST: “Your cat really does prefer your voice to that of a stranger.”
GIZMODO: “Your cat knows when you're using your 'cat talk' voice.”