Recent Research Challenges Previous Beliefs About How Cats Purr

by Amir Hussein
Cat Purring Mechanism

Traditionally, it was believed that cats produce purring sounds through rhythmic contractions of their vocal fold muscles. However, a recent study has cast doubt on this conventional wisdom. Anatomical investigations have uncovered a unique feature in cat vocal folds that allows them to create low-frequency purring sounds, raising questions about our existing understanding of cat purring.

Contrary to prior beliefs, a cat’s larynx can generate purring sounds without the need for cyclic neural input.

Cats are known for their vocal nature, expressing themselves through meows, screeches, and purrs. From a vocalization standpoint, meows and screeches are quite ordinary. They originate from the cat’s larynx, or “voice box,” much like vocalizations in humans and many other mammals.

In contrast, cat purring has long been considered extraordinary. Research dating back several decades proposed that purring was produced by a specialized mechanism involving the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of muscles within the vocal folds of the larynx. This mechanism was thought to require continuous neural input and control from the brain.

Unveiling the True Mechanism of Purring

A recent study led by Austrian voice scientist Christian T. Herbst at the University of Vienna has challenged this traditional notion. The study demonstrates that cats can produce their characteristic purring sounds without the need for cyclic muscle contractions or repetitive neural input.

Data from carefully controlled laboratory experiments reveal that a domestic cat’s larynx can produce remarkably low-pitched sounds at purring frequencies without relying on neural input or muscle contractions. Interestingly, the observed mechanism of sound production bears a striking resemblance to the human phenomena known as “creaky voice” or “vocal fry.”

Herbst explains, “Anatomical investigations revealed a unique ‘pad’ within the cats’ vocal folds that may explain how such a small animal, weighing only a few kilograms, can consistently produce sounds at these incredibly low frequencies (20-30 Hz, or cycles per second) – even lower than the lowest bass sounds produced by human voices.”

While this study does not entirely disprove the previous theory, it undeniably highlights the incompleteness of our current understanding of cat purring. Further research is warranted to delve deeper into this intriguing aspect of feline communication.

Reference: “Domestic cat larynges can produce purring frequencies without neural input” by Christian T. Herbst, Tamara Prigge, Maxime Garcia, Vit Hampala, Riccardo Hofer, Gerald E. Weissengruber, Jan G. Svec and W. Tecumseh Fitch, 3 October 2023, Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.09.014

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cat Purring Mechanism

Q: What was the traditional belief about how cats produce purring sounds?

A: The traditional belief was that cats produced purring sounds through cyclic contractions of vocal fold muscles.

Q: What did the recent study reveal about cat purring?

A: The recent study showed that cats can generate purring sounds without the need for cyclic neural input or muscle contractions. It discovered a unique pad in cat vocal folds responsible for this mechanism.

Q: How do meows and screeches in cats differ from purring in terms of vocalization?

A: Meows and screeches in cats are similar to vocalizations in humans and many other mammals, originating in the cat’s larynx or “voice box.” In contrast, purring was long believed to involve a more specialized mechanism.

Q: What is the significance of the observed sound production mechanism in cats?

A: The observed mechanism in cats resembles the human phenomena known as “creaky voice” or “vocal fry.” It challenges our understanding of how cats produce purring sounds and suggests that further research is needed to fully comprehend this aspect of feline communication.

More about Cat Purring Mechanism

  • Original Research Article: Access the full research article titled “Domestic cat larynges can produce purring frequencies without neural input” published in Current Biology.
  • University of Vienna: Explore the website of the University of Vienna, where the study was led by voice scientist Christian T. Herbst.
  • Cats and Vocalization: Learn more about cat vocalization and behavior from Scientific American.

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Reader27 October 6, 2023 - 7:09 pm

wow, dis is crazi cat stuff! meow meow! so cats can purr witout brain control? mindblowin!

CuriousCatLady October 7, 2023 - 4:36 am

i always tot cat purrs were from muscles, but dis say nope. weird! need moar study!


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