Whether you’re doing the hokey pokey, or just trying to get some tuna out of a jar, you’ll use your left paw if you’re a male cat, or your right if you’re a female, according to research just completed at Queen’s University in Belfast.
Psychologists Sarah Millsopp and Deborah Wells tested 42 housecats — split evenly between males and females — to determine whether, like humans, cats are right-handed or left-handed. They published their results recently in the Animal Behavior journal.
The cats were subjected to three tests. In the first test, researchers dropped tuna into narrow-mouth jar. For the second, they dangled mouse toys above the cats’ heads. In the final test, they dragged a mouse toy across the floor in front of the cats. Each cat was put through each test 100 times.
The results were somewhat astonishing. When playing with the mice, both male and female cats demonstrated ambidextrous use of both paws. But in the tuna-in-the-jar test, all but one of the male cats used their left paws to scoop out the tuna, while all but one female cat used their right paws to complete the same task.
The findings show that cats use their paws much like humans use their hands. For example, most humans are ambidextrous when it comes to simple tasks like opening a door, but use their favored hand for tasks requiring precision, like writing.
The cats in the study mimicked human hand usage in another way: although the vast majority of humans are right-handed, men are statistically much more likely than women to be left-handed. One theory suggests that left-handed people were exposed to higher levels of testosterone than right-handed people while in the womb.