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From time to time, most cat owners will call for their furry friend, only to be met with silence. However, just because we can’t seem to find them doesn’t mean they can’t hear us… or that the stealthy furballs haven’t been tracking us all along. Saho Takagi, a dedicated cat lover and doctoral student at Kyoto University in Japan, says she’s always found cats’ hearing abilities fascinating, especially when they move their ears in different directions. This interest led to a study published recently in the journal PLOS One.
Takagi explained to CNN, “I saw a cat with only one of its ears tilted back, listening to the sound behind it, and felt that cats must be thinking about many things from the sound. This time, I investigated whether they map their owner’s position spatially from sounds.”
To test this, cats were placed alone in a room with a speaker outside and one inside. While the cats got acclimated, their owner’s voice was played five times from the outside speaker. Then the speakers played either the voice of their owner or a stranger several times. Cats showed the most surprise when their owner’s voice popped up somewhere that they weren’t expecting. Takagi and her team say this demonstrates a socio-spatial cognitive ability that had not been found in cats before.
She explains, “This study shows that cats can mentally map their location based on their owner’s voice,” which suggests “that cats have the ability to picture the invisible in their minds. Cats [may] have a more profound mind than is thought.”

Takagi also says that the findings indicate cats may be more interested in their humans than people like to think.
This study adds onto other research showing that cats have a variety of hearing skills. Not only can they differentiate between their owner’s voice and that of a stranger, they can also recognize emotional sounds from other cats and humans and form mental representations of other objects.
Your furry friend may spend a lot of time lazing around and could also appear aloof at times, but it seems there’s a lot more going on in those sweet little heads than meets the eye.