Do Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris catus) infer Reputation in Humans after Direct and Indirect Experience?

Jessica Leete, Jennifer Vonk, Silvia Oriani, Taryn Eaton & Jennifer Lieb

Oakland University

Although felids in general tend to be relatively asocial, domestic cats live closely with humans and other domestic species and thus, might be expected to respond to cues indicating, for example, the reputation of others. Furthermore, recent research with other less social species suggests that social learning is not unique to group-housed animals. Therefore, here we tested seven cat dyads with one cat interacting directly with unfamiliar humans, and another indirectly observing the interactions, to determine whether they would learn the 'friendly' and 'aggressive' reputations of the unfamiliar humans. Cats did not show a tendency to interact less, or more cautiously, with aggressive experimenters based on contact duration and latency to approach. Cats that observed the interactions indirectly spent more time near both experimenters and approached more quickly on test trials compared to cats that directly interacted with the experimenters, but this may have been due to spending more time crated between trials. We hesitate to conclude that cats are incapable of inferring reputation based on this small sample. It is possible that cats would behave more discriminately if tested in familiar environments.

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Keywords: domestic cat, eavesdropping, image scoring, reputation, social learning
Posted in Volume 8, No. 3