Study: Cats May Be The Real "Man's Best Friend"

 |  Feb 25th 2011  |   32 Contributions


Catster Turkish Poof and his person

It's an unfortunate truth that many people think that the only reason cats act affectionate toward humans is to meet their own selfish needs. But a new study reveals what most Catsters already know: Cats attach to their people as social partners, not just bringers of food.

The research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Process, suggests that the bond between cats and their owners is far more intense than imagined -- particularly for cat-loving women.

The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds.

"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, said. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"

The study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, was conducted by videotaping and analyzing the interaction between 41 cats and their owners over long, four-part periods.

Owner and cat personalities were assessed in by separate tests before the videotaping began. In the cat assessment, the authors put a stuffed owl toy with large eyes on a floor so the animal would encounter it by surprise.

The research showed that cats and their owners had a strong influence on one another; in fact, they often controlled each other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity. Cats in these relationships only had to use subtle cues like a single upright tall move to show they wanted friendly contact.

While there are plenty of men who love cats, and cats who love men, this study and other research reveal that women interact with their cats more than men do.

"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna said, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return it to their owners. If a person complies with their cat's wishes to interact, the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

"A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. "A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences."

Dennis Turner, a University of Zurich-Irchel animal behaviorist, is "very impressed with this study on human-cat interactions, in that it has taken our earlier findings a step higher, using more modern analytical techniques to get at the interplay between cat and human personalities."

Turner, who is also senior editor of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour (Cambridge University Press), says that he and his colleagues "now have a new dimension to help us understand how these relationships function."

It could just be that the cat, not the dog, is really man's (and woman's) best friend.

[Source: Discovery News]

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