Sophia Magazine vol.10

What has long been known by cat owners, that their pets know their own names, has now been scientifically proven, thanks to the research carried out by Associate Professor Saito. However, compared to all the research on dogs, including some proving that canines can understand around 1,000 words, her research into cats seems to be a little bit behind. Saito explains the reason: “As you know, cats have a fickle character, which makes them difficult research subjects, and it is difficult to train them, whereas dogs are easily trained with food used as an incentive.” That is why she employed the habituation-dishabituation method, a technique in which the subject is played their own name after four words of the same syllable length and intona-tion as their moniker (or the names of four other cats from the same house) with a 15-second inter-stimulus interval. The cat reacts to the novel stimulus of the other recorded words at first, but once it stops responding to the continued stimulus of these four words (it has become habituated to them), and if it then reacts to its own name again (dishabitu-ation), then it is likely that it is perceived as just that by the cat – in other words, its name is a stimulus distinct from the habituated stimulus. Saito conducted experiments and analyzed data on some 112 cats in total, and observed statistically significant results for dishabituation. “Cats do associate their own names, as specific human voice stimuli, with rewards like receiving food and being petted. However, our results did not demonstrate that they recognize their own names.”Saito takes a humble attitude, declaring, “I would be happy if these modest findings raise the profile of cat research and bring more vibrancy to the field.” The reaction to her work, however, has been far greater than she could have imagined. After her thesis was published in the leading global jour-nal, Scientific Reports, the story was picked up not only by the academic press, but also by a large number of mainstream media outlets. “In addition to the primary findings, we discovered behav-ioral differences between house cats and cat café ‘residents,’ which opens up avenues of research into how cat sociability evolves amid human interactions,” says Saito, expressing her hopes for future research that will aid humans in enjoying better lives together with cats.Incidentally, as she and her colleagues searched for photos of cats to use in their research, before she knew it the re-search team had amassed a collection of some 500 images. Surprised anew by the sheer affinity between cats and the Internet, Saito breaks it down thus: “While the popularity of dogs lies to a large extent in the relationship with their own-ers, cats appeal to us because of their appearance and behav-ior. That is why it is so tempting to post pictures and videos of cats, and that is why they are so easy and fun to watch.”This “cuteness” of cats is another of her research topics: major factors in this perceived cuteness are juvenile charac-teristics, and the neoteny of the feline face with its relatively large eyes and small mouth, but this is not the whole story. She looks back with a chuckle on what led her into the study. “Actually, until I had a baby of my own I was no good with children. I was secretly worried that it was a problem to be a human being who found cats cute but not babies. That is why I decided to examine the true nature of ‘cuteness’.”Obviously, this issue is closely related to another pillar of her research: the psychology of child-rearing. Says Saito, “It is difficult to figure out the interaction between the emotions sparked by the appearance of a person and the relationship with that individual, so the study has not progressed as I had expected.”While she was a student at the University of Tokyo, Saito discovered joy in the study of comparative Why are Felines Cute ?How Do We Find out What Fickle Cats Are Thinking?How Can the Social System Be Changed to Create a More “Natural”Parenting Environment? Saito’s beloved cat, Okara, played a role in the name-association experiment.Domestic cats associate their names with rewards.14Research

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