Cats Use Their Ears to Keep an Eye on Owners Without Moving, New Research Finds
Even when you are in another room, your cat is watching.
"I saw a cat with only one of its ears tilted back, listening to the sound behind it, and felt that cats must be thinking about many things from the sound," Takagi told the outlet via email.
Takagi decided to test if cats "map" their owner's movements through sound by coming up with an experiment. For the study, Takagi and her fellow researchers noted how their feline subjects—observed at home and a cat cafe—reacted to their owner's voice sans visual cues by playing the voices through a speaker without the owners present.
Speakers were placed in several rooms where the cat subjects couldn't see them, and then each speaker played the recording of the owner's voice one at a time. While the recordings played, a group of people watched the cats' reactions—their ear and head movements—to the audio, looking for signs of shock or surprise.
Based on the group's observation, most cats were surprised to hear their owners seemingly transport from one room to another without making any other noise. These results signaled to researchers that felines likely create mental maps of where their owners are by using sound, keeping tabs on their people without using their eyes. To Takagi, the results might mean your cat cares more about you than you think.
"It is generally believed that cats are not as interested in their owners as dogs are, but it turns out that they were mentally representing the invisible presence of their owners," Takagi told CNN.
The study's lead author also noted that the findings signal that cats have more complex minds than we acknowledge.
"This is an ability that is the basis of creativity and imagination," Takagi said of the apparent mental mapping ability she and her researchers observed in cats.
Cats spend most of their time sleeping, and people often think that it's good that cats just sleep," she added. "But cats ... may be thinking about many things."