Classification of domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalizations by naive and experienced human listeners

J Comp Psychol. 2003 Mar;117(1):44-52. doi: 10.1037/0735-7036.117.1.44.


To test for possible functional referentiality in a common domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalization, the authors conducted 2 experiments to examine whether human participants could classify meow sounds recorded from 12 different cats in 5 behavioral contexts. In Experiment 1, participants heard singlecalls, whereas in Experiment 2, bouts of calls were presented. In both cases, classification accuracy was significantly above chance, but modestly so. Accuracy for bouts exceeded that for single calls. Overall, participants performed better in classifying individual calls if they had lived with, interacted with, and had a general affinity for cats. These results provide little evidence of referentiality suggesting instead that meows are nonspecific, somewhat negatively toned stimuli that attract attention from humans. With experience, human listeners can become more proficient at inferring positive-affect states from cat meows.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Female
  • Human-Animal Bond
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Behavior
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*