de Mouzon, C., Di-Stasi, R., Leboucher, G. 2024. Human perception of cats’ communicative cues: Human‐cat communication goes multimodal. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 270, 106137.

As a central key to apprehend the human-cat relationship, the question of how humans decode the behaviours expressed by their feline companions has drawn scientists’ attention in the past decades. To this point, previous studies have not investigated humans’ understanding of cats’ communicative cues in a multimodal perspective. While communication generally implies multiple channels, the influence of signal modality as relates to human-cat communication, is still poorly understood. Therefore, the primary aim of the present study was to investigate whether people can identify cats’ communicative information using unimodal (visual or vocal) and bimodal (visual and vocal) signals. Participants (n=630) were recruited via online advertisement on social media. Each participant viewed 24 carefully operationalised video clips of cats in different emotional/behavioural conditions. Four categories were included: contentment, discontentment, solicitation (food or attention) and predatory behaviour. Clips were presented as vocal only, visual only, or bimodal (visual and vocal cues). Video clips showing a bimodal expression were identified with the highest score (91,8% of correct ratings) compared with the visual only (87,3%) and the vocal only (72,2%). All modalities considered, contentment returned the highest identification score (90,1% correct), followed by solicitation (87,2%), then predatory behaviour (86,3%). Discontentment was the most difficult behaviour to be correctly identified (71,6%). Finally, for all behavioural categories and modalities, professionals working with animals returned a higher score than lay people (86.2% vs 82.9%). Taken together, our data underline the influence of the signal modality on interspecific communication between cats and humans. Information emitted by cats as a bimodal signal (visual and vocal) is better understood by humans than visual signals. The most difficult to decipher for humans are vocal signals emitted alone. A better understanding of humans’ abilities to understand their feline counterparts, could potentially help pet owners, and animal care practitioners to optimise cat care and welfare.

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