They are known to demand attention one minute and be infuriatingly aloof the next. Picture: AP

London - They are known to demand attention one minute and be infuriatingly aloof the next.

And the game cats play extends to their response when you call them. For they really do know their name, research shows, they just choose to ignore their owner’s voice when it suits them.

Japanese scientists tested the behaviour of 78 cats and found they do recognise their name. But unlike dogs, they normally don’t come running.

Dogs have long been known to respond to commands and tests have shown they can distinguish up to 1 000 words. Cats who seem to respond to their name are probably merely hoping to be fed. A team from Sophia University in Tokyo, led by Professor Atsuko Saito, did four experiments to gauge cats’ response to language.

Each cat heard a recording of its owner’s voice, or another person’s voice, slowly reciting a list of four nouns or other cats’ names, followed by the cat’s name. 

Many cats initially reacted – such as by moving their heads, ears or tails – but gradually lost interest as the words were read. On average, they perked up when they heard their name, according to the research published in the journal Scientific Reports Professor Saito said there is no evidence cats actually attach meaning to our words, not even their own names.

Rather, they associate their names with either rewards such as food or play, or something bad like a trip to the vet. Because they hear their names a lot, the sound becomes special, she said. Kristyn Vitale, who studies cat behaviour at Oregon State University and has trained them to respond to commands, said the results "make complete sense".

They do not mean cats assign a sense of self to their names – it is more like being trained to recognise a sound, she said.

John Bradshaw, a Bristol University biologist who specialises in human–animal interactions, told the journal Nature: "Cats are just as good as dogs at learning – they’re just not as keen to show their owners what they’ve learnt."

Daily Mail