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Behavior Experiment: How Long Until My Aloof Cat Acknowledges My Presence?

I asked my cat Cosmo a series of questions to gauge the point when he'd react. Science!

Angie Bailey  |  Jul 25th 2016


Cats are innately aloof creatures. It’s funny, really. It’s like they just can’t be bothered unless there’s a direct payoff that benefits them. Now, I know this isn’t always the case. Sometimes my cats seek attention when they want a cuddle, would like to play, or interfere with my bed-making. Wait … aren’t all those activities with a feline-based payoff? Hmmm.

I’ve met some people who aren’t particularly fond of cats who say their sometimes standoffish behavior isn’t as satisfying as a dog’s constant quest for love and attention. I have to say that that’s the main reason I’m not really a dog person. I do love the pooches and I enjoy having friends with dogs; however, an independent, distant feline just suits me. It’s not that I want to work for my cats’ attention — I think their behavior is actually kind of funny. Plus they don’t drool all over me. Well, Cosmo drools a little, but it’s not super drippy drool. Usually.

Note the very minor, yet identifiable, ear cock.

Note the very minor, yet identifiable, ear cock.

Some of you might know that like to conduct little social experiments with my cats. Don’t worry — nothing weird or in the “let’s scare my cat with a cucumber” family. The experiments are mostly looking for my cats’ reaction or behavior based on choices I give them. For example, I’ve allowed them to intuitively choose an entire outfit for me, decide on the components for my lunch, and solve the very important question: do my cats prefer a box, basket, or bag? As you can tell, this is real science, so continue reading only if you’re interested in facts and outcomes and trust my skills as a reputable researcher.

Back to the whole feline aloofness thing. I sometimes talk to my cats and wait for the magical moment that they turn their head or open their eyes and acknowledge my existence. My results vary, but I’ve never documented my scientific approach. Today I undertake an experiment so we’ll never have to wonder about the facts. Oh, you’re welcome.

My new favorite "story": "As the Head Turns."

My new favorite “story”: “As the Head Turns.”

Cosmo is the most aloof of my two cats, so he was the logical participant. First, let me give you some basic facts about the test subject:

  • 14-year-old male
  • 13 pounds
  • Tuxedo markings
  • Long history of indifferent behavior while I attempt a conversation with him
  • White triangle marking on his lower abdomen which I’ve named his “man panties” (may be irrelevant to the experiment, but you never know what might affect the outcome)

In general, Cosmo’s indifferent behavior has nothing to do with his eyes being open or closed. He doesn’t need to see his surroundings to ignore me. His ears, however, are really bad liars. Like most cats, even though he pretends like I don’t exist, his ears go into cocking mode. It’s like he can’t help it — his ears have a mind of their own. Even the tiniest ear movement is visible to the human eye. I wonder whether he knows this about himself? Maybe he does and then every time his ears go on “auto cock,” he thinks, “Damn it! Why is my body betraying me?” Who knows? All I know is that I can see the ear cock happen.

The blatant cold-shoulder is astounding.

The blatant, full-frontal cold-shoulder is astounding.

So after finding Cosmo in a loafed position on my sofa, eyes open, looking away from my general direction, I knew the conditions were perfect for beginning my experiment. I sat quietly behind him and waited a few minutes while I reviewed the questions I planned to ask my subject. I wanted a seamless process, and if he knew he was a test subject, he might intentionally throw the whole damn thing. Cats are pretty unpredictable, you know. I didn’t want to take that chance. I’m sure you understand.

After I settled in and knew for sure that Cosmo was well positioned for the experiment to begin, I started with the questions, pausing after each one to see whether he’d turn around and show me he’d been paying attention. In short, I was testing the classic feline stamina for aloofness.

Result: I asked him five questions. Each one seemed like excellent bait for a cat … I thought. Or maybe they were excellent bait for a human such as myself. Whatever — the experiment is over and I’m not about to go back and change my methods now, so it is what it is. The important takeaway is that he turned around on the fifth question. Not only did his eyes meet mine, he vocalized a response. This, my friends, is what I call a successful outcome. Please note, however, the final question is one that would lead to something that benefits him. Remember the “feline-based payoff” I mentioned ? Ding, ding, ding! Whoomp there it is!

See for yourself:

So, as demonstrated, the experiment was a smashing success and now you know the answer to a question that’s probably haunted you for all the years of your life. Wonder no longer! It’s been my pleasure.

Science!

What word or phrase makes your cat drop his aloof act and acknowledge you? Tell us in the comments!