Cats read human gaze, Hungarian scientists conclude

Like dogs, cats can also interpret human gaze, scientists at Budapest ELTE University found in a recent study.

Human communication can take many forms. Pointing, for example, can be done with an extended arm, just a finger or by turning our head or just looking at an object. Etological studies have long established that many animal species can correctly interpret pointing, but interpreting human gaze as a pointing gesture has so far only been observed in dogs.

Dogs have been the subject of significantly more studies than cats, simply due to the fact that convincing cats to cooperate is much more difficult. But a team at the ELTE University lead by Péter Pongrácz has found that cats can also correctly interpret human gaze. The experiment was fairly simple - a treat was placed in one of two bowls and cats had to find the correct one by just interpreting their master's gaze. The study - conducted in the homes of cat owners - showed that in 70 percent of cases cats can positively identify the bowl with the treat: this is both significantly higher to be random and is about the same success rate as dogs exhibit.

The experiments also showed that cats could interpret even a short human gaze correctly, while they also reacted faster to the visual clues if previously called by their names. The study gives valuable insight into the domestication process of cats, who, unlike dogs, are solitary animals. The study, entitled "Cats can read human gaze for referential information" was published in Intelligence magazine.

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