Context Effects on Duration, Fundamental Frequency, and Intonation in Human-directed Domestic Cat Meows

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In this study, we investigated the prosody of domestic cat meows produced in different contexts. Prosodic cues – i.e., variation in intonation, duration, voice quality and fundamental frequency – in humans as well as in nonhuman animals carry information about idiosyncratic traits of the signaller, including sex, age, and physical and mental state. The duration, fundamental frequency (F0) and intonation in a sample of 969 meows recorded in seven different contexts (i.e., cuddle, door, food, greeting, lifting, play, cat carrier) were analysed using linear mixed effects regression and generalized additive models. In this, we controlled for cat age and sex, as meows produced by old cats had lower mean F0 than those produced by young cats, and female cats produced meows with higher mean F0 than male cats. We found significant effects of context on duration and mean F0, but not on F0 range. Furthermore, the results showed that the intonation of meows produced by cats in a cat carrier displayed a falling pattern, while that of meows produced in cuddle and door contexts was relatively level, and that of meows produced in the other contexts consisted of combinations of rising and falling. The average slope of meows produced in cat carrier and play contexts was negative, while that of meows produced in the other contexts was positive. We argue that this prosodic variation reflects the cats’ mental or emotional state, because of valence and arousal differences associated with the various contexts that were included in the study. Further studies will need to confirm this. In addition, we also plan additional analyses of spectral and voice quality parameters in meows and other cat vocalisation types.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106146
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - 2024 Jan 3

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Behavioral Sciences Biology
  • Animal and Dairy Science

Free keywords

  • Domestic cat
  • Meow
  • Prosody
  • Intonation
  • Context

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