You could extend the question in the title to: Can cats recognise emotions in humans and recognise the facial expression that goes with those emotions?
This apparently is what dogs can do and I think that cats can also do it but to a lesser extent because they have been domesticated for a much shorter time than domestic dogs (and are solitary rather than group-living animals). Dogs have been domesticated for about 30,000 years while cats, as we know, have been domesticated for around 10,000 years. It is therefore only a question of time, I would argue, before cats have the same nuanced approach to human emotions that dogs currently have.
A study carried out by scientists at the universities of Lincoln and San Paolo clearly indicates that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs. They also are able to pick up nuances in their master’s voice and match those nuanced emotions to the facial expression of the person. So, for example, when a dog’s master cries the dog may pad up to the person to see what is wrong. If the person yawns, the dog yawns. Dogs are instinctively reading human emotions.
The scientists concluded that the dogs appear to have “cognitive abilities not known to exist beyond humans”.
The PhD student, Natalia Albuquerque, who led the study said that it was the first firm evidence that dogs could not only discriminate between their owner’s facial expressions but also link emotional signals from different senses in a way which implies, “abstract recognition”.
“Being able to appropriately respond to our task means that the dogs heard the sound and then they were looking at the corresponding image.” (Natalia Albuquerque)
The dogs received no prior training. Turning to cats, my experience in looking after a cat for many years is that my cat also understands my emotions through the tone of my voice and quite possibly (although I can’t confirm this) my facial expression. For example, I know that he understands when I’m annoyed by something he is doing and he will stop doing it. He understands my pleasure at seeing him on my return home and it is reciprocated.
I’m sure that many cat owners have similar experiences of their cat being in tune with their mood. I have read about this numerous times from visitors to my website. Of course this is anecdotal evidence and perhaps a study should be carried out on this because the dog seems to get first preference when it comes to studies of this sort. Perhaps this is because dogs are easier to study.
However, it is nice to see these studies being carried out because people are gradually learning that animals including domestic dogs and cats are more intelligent than people once believed. They have greater cognitive abilities than people have until recently given them credit for.
The study referred to is important because it is the first to propose that there is more to a dog’s behaviour when interacting with humans than what is called “simple pattern recognition”. I believe this to mean that it was once believed that dogs or cats simply responded to patterns of behaviour rather than being tuned in to the emotions of the human. The authors of the study say that dogs must have a “mental template for human feelings”. This would seem to me that they have an archive of human emotions in their memory which they can match up to what is happening before them.
I would like cats to be included more in this type of study because, as mentioned, I think science will confirm what dedicated cat caretakers have known for a long time, namely that the domestic cat has similar abilities but perhaps slightly less developed due to a shorter history of domestication and their inherently solitary nature.
Do you have any examples of your cat responding to your emotions?
Associated: Cats are aware of our needs.
Please comment on Facebook as well as it helps spread the word – thanks.