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You’re Not Imagining Things. Scientists Say Your Cat Really Does Ignore You

Cats have a trademark on cool. They can be aloof, affectionate or obstinate. But both their loving owners and most ardent opponents have never really known whether they understand their own names. Scientists now might have the answer.

A psychologist in Tokyo, after studying some 78 cats in a variety of locations, has determined that felines can distinguish their own names when owners speak them. But they don’t respond to them in the same way, say, a dog would.

It’s not that your cat doesn’t hear you call its name when he or she is clawing its way up your new drapes. It just doesn’t feel like acknowledging you.

Atsuko Saito, a psychologist at Sophia University in Tokyo, tracked vocalizations and movements of felines as they were played four nouns, then their name. Cats reacted strongly to the first word, but less to the following ones. When their name was spoken, however, reactions increased again, with ears twitching or heads turning toward the sound, indicating comprehension.

Other scientists, though, say cats don’t associate their name as part of their identity, which might explain why they seem to ignore their owners when called.

The aloofness of cats is a far cry from a 2017 study on dogs, when an Emory University neuroscientist found that canines truly do love their owners.

Behavioral research on dogs is much more extensive than it is on cats, in part because dogs are much more reactive. Scientists have learned that dogs personalities change with age and believe that dogs are significantly smarter than cats.