Typically, cats are seen as aloof animals that don’t rely too much on humans. There are running jokes about how cats view their owners as slaves or staff. It’s a contrast to the idea of “man’s best friend,” the bond between people and dogs.
But recent research suggests that cats might be more bonded to us than we ever thought — in fact, they might even bond to us in the same way that babies tend to bond with their parents.
So, what’s the reason for that “aloof” stereotype? It comes from cats that don’t feel secure in their human relationships.
“Cats that are insecure can be likely to run and hide or seem to act aloof,” said Kristyn Vitale, a researcher and study author from the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University. “There’s long been a biased way of thinking that all cats behave this way. But the majority of cats use their owner as a source of security.”
Vitale said the reason for the study was simple.
While cats are the most popular house pet in the United States, even surpassing dogs, we don’t actually know very much about how their brains work. Particularly, the ins and outs of their relationship with humans remain a mystery.
“There has been relatively little research into the cat-human bond, especially when we compare it to the number of research studies with dogs and humans,” said Vitale.
The study was pretty straightforward.
It observed the behavior of 70 kittens and their owners. First, the owner spent two minutes in a room with their cat. Then they left the room for two minutes before reuniting for two more minutes.
The study found that 64 percent of cats showed signs of decreasing stress when their owners returned.
Once they were reunited, the cats alternated roaming around the room and returning to their owner as a safe place. The remaining 36 percent of kittens indicated signs of insecure attachment. They were still stressed when their owners returned.
A similar experiment was done with adult cats.
Researchers noted something interesting: the behavior of the kittens and cats upon the return of their owners was similar to that of dogs and infant humans.
“We found that the attachment bond cats display toward their owners is very similar to the bond dogs share with their owners and even the bond human infants display toward their caretakers,” said Vitale. “All three species display the same distinct patterns of attachment behavior. The majority of individuals in all species are securely attached to their caregiver, meaning they use their caregiver as a source of comfort and security in an unfamiliar situation.”
She also said the way that kittens and cats were socialized didn’t really seem to matter regarding the bond they formed with their owner.
What was important was that element of “secure” bonding.
Vitale says there are other things to consider, including temperament, history, and more. She stated there’s still a long way to go in understanding feline behavior. But for now, we can definitely say that cats are not the aloof, arrogant animals they’re rumored to be.
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