Cats are only pretending to be indifferent to humans, claims study

Your moggy may love you more than you think. Maybe

Rachel Hosie
Tuesday 28 March 2017 13:15 BST
(Getty/iStockphoto (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Much like Marmite, people seem to either love or hate cats. And those that love their feline friends really love them.

Those that don’t (generally dog people), however, claim cats are selfish creatures who show no affection and think they’re better than their owners.

While dogs will bound to the front door, tails wagging, to greet us when we get home at the end of the day, cats often seem, well, indifferent.

But according to a new study, this is, in fact, all an act. Because cats are so smart, of course.

Researchers from Oregon State University have reached the conclusion that cats actually prefer the company of humans to food, catnip and the smell of fellow cats.

The lead researcher Kristyn Vitale Shreve wasn’t happy with the fact that many scientific papers refer to cats as being difficult to train, stubborn and insouciant (it’s probably safe to infer Vitale Shreve is a cat person).

To test whether this was true, the researchers conducted an experiment on 55 cats - 23 were pets and 22 from animal shelters.

Every cat was put in solitary confinement for two and a half hours and the researchers used the time to work out each one’s preferred food (chicken, tuna or cat treats), toy (feather, fuzzy mouse with shaker or springy “cat dancer” wire with cardboard rolls to chase), scent (gerbil, catnip or another cat) and type of human interaction (baby talk, petting or playing with a GoCat Da Bird feather toy).

The cats were then tested through what’s known as a ‘free operant preference assessment,’ which involves putting them in a room with various objects and seeing how much interest they show in each one - it’s never before been used on cats.

Each one was placed in the middle of a cross surrounded by each of their preferred items from the four categories. They were free to move around however they wanted.

Not all the cats got the hang of the experiment but of the 38 that did, 19 spent the majority of the time with the human rather than the food, toy or scent (which entailed a scented cloth).

Food was the second most popular though, preferred by 14 of the cats, four of the cats chose the toys and just one went for the scent.

“The idea that cats have not been domesticated long enough to show preference toward human interaction is not supported by these data,” the researchers say. “Although it is often thought cats prefer solitude to social interaction, the data of this study indicate otherwise.”

However it’s important to note that this wasn’t a huge study and different cats may react differently to different humans.

The researchers accepted that some cats could be less inclined to spending time with humans than others, but maybe friendly cats do exist after all.

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