Study Finds People Have Trouble Understanding Cats

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio

Do you think that you’re able to accurately interpret your cat’s body language and vocalizations to figure out what they’re feeling or trying to tell you? Although you might be pretty confident in your ability to understand your cat, you might not always be right.

Stan Hubble/Shutterstock

French researchers conducted a study that found individuals weren’t always correct when it came to recognizing cats’ emotions. So, even though cats communicate through various sounds, from meows to chatters, as well as body language, people don’t always get the message that their pets are trying to convey.

How the Study Was Conducted

The study involved 630 people who provided responses online. They were given 24 videos to watch, all showcasing a variety of feline behaviors.

Some of the videos were of cats communicating vocally, while other videos only showed visual cues (body language and facial expressions), and the rest had both forms of communication.

Also, four categories of emotions were displayed in the videos: contentment, discontentment, solicitation, and predatory.

The Results: People Might Not Understand Cats All That Well

Participants had the best scores when it came to interpreting videos of cats showing vocal and visual cues, and this was followed by visual cues only and then vocal cues only.

In addition, participants were more accurate when it came to identifying cats that were content, followed by behaviors of solicitation for attention or food, and finally predatory behaviors. When it came to recognizing discontentment, the participants didn’t do as well, so it was the hardest emotion for them to identify.

Also worth noting: the study found that professionals who work with animals scored higher than those who don’t.

An example of a cue that could be misinterpreted is purring, as cats will purr when they’re happy and when they’re stressed because they can use purring to self-soothe. To really know what a cat is experiencing, it’s best to take their vocalizations and their body language into account, as these signals can provide greater clarity as to what they’re feeling.

Is Your Cat Misunderstood?

This research reveals that there’s more that pet parents can learn about their feline companions. While you might be able to easily tell when your kitty is happy, you might not readily recognize the signs that they’re unhappy. If, for example, you’re petting your cat and they suddenly turn and bite you, you might’ve missed subtle signals that they were getting annoyed along the way. Learning more about feline behavior and the ways that these animals communicate with you can help you create a happier home for your pets.

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Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

More by Lisa Selvaggio