Human classification of context-related vocalizations emitted by familiar and unfamiliar domestic cats: an exploratory study

Ellis, Sarah, Swindell, Victoria and Burman, Oliver (2015) Human classification of context-related vocalizations emitted by familiar and unfamiliar domestic cats: an exploratory study. ANTHROZOÖS, 28 (4). pp. 625-634. ISSN 0892-7936

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Previous research has shown that human classification of contextspecific
domestic cat “meow” vocalizations is relatively poor, although improves
with experience and/or general affinity to cats. To investigate whether such classification
further improves when recipients (humans) of the vocalizations reside
with the vocalizing animal (cat), cat owners (n = 10) were asked to listen to eight
audio recordings of a single meow (4 from their own cat and 4 from an unfamiliar
cat) produced during one of four possible contexts, and identify the context in
which each meow was emitted. Contexts comprised food preparation, foodwithholding,
negotiating a barrier, and attention solicitation. In addition,
participants were asked to rate 20 meow vocalizations (produced by unfamiliar
cats in the four contexts) on scales measuring pleasantness and urgency, in
order to investigate whether participants reached consensus on the emotional
content of the vocalizations. Successful identification of both the context and the
hypothesized emotional content of the vocalization would comprise the first
steps in our understanding of whether human-directed cat “meow” vocalizations
are fully advantageous. Forty percent of the participants identified the correct
contexts at a level greater than chance when the vocalizations belonged to their
own cat. However, no participants performed above chance when vocalizations
belonged to an unfamiliar cat. Participants’ urgency ratings were not
significantly influenced by the context in which the vocalization was produced.
Pleasantness ratings, however, were significantly higher for the context of
negotiating a barrier in comparison with attention solicitation. These results
suggest that the domestic cat, as a species, does not have a context-specific
repertoire of human-directed vocalizations. Successful context classification of
cat meows however, was possible for some owners. Whether such success
was due to individual learning ability or recognition of hypothesized emotional
content of the call requires further investigation.

Keywords:Vocalisations, NotOAChecked
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D328 Animal Welfare
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
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ID Code:19823
Deposited On:21 Dec 2015 16:42

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