There are loads of cat owners out there who seem to think they know what their cat “means” when they meow. If you fall under this category then we’re here to tell you that’s probable that you don’t know your cat as well as you think you do. A study done by a number of scientists tried to determine how accurate cat 0wners are when it comes to detecting their meows. They did so by recording cat meows in various contexts such as when the cat was being fed or was in a stressful situation. Those recordings were then played back to the owners to see if the owners could identify what those particular sounds meant. The results were that people had no clue what they were talking about! The results from Pubmed are listed below.
“To test for possible functional referentiality in a common domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalization, the authors conducted 2 experiments to examine whether human participants could classify meow sounds recorded from 12 different cats in 5 behavioral contexts. In Experiment 1, participants heard singlecalls, whereas in Experiment 2, bouts of calls were presented. In both cases, classification accuracy was significantly above chance, but modestly so. Accuracy for bouts exceeded that for single calls. Overall, participants performed better in classifying individual calls if they had lived with, interacted with, and had a general affinity for cats. These results provide little evidence of referentiality suggesting instead that meows are nonspecific, somewhat negatively toned stimuli that attract attention from humans. With experience, human listeners can become more proficient at inferring positive-affect states from cat meows.”
Next time just try and pay attention to visual cues rather than vocal (assuming your cat isn’t in any danger or distress).