Most kittens see owners ‘as parents’ finds study

The research says that cats are just as emotionally attached to their owners as dogs are

Hollie Richardson
Friday 13 August 2021 07:41

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Kittens display an attachment style similar to human babies and they see their human owners as parents, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Oregon State University say the majority of kittens studied had a ‘secure attachment style’, which meant they experienced a “reduced stress response” when their owners returned after leaving them in a room during the experiment.

Published in the Current Biology journal, the study analysed the behaviour of a group of kittens aged four to eight months that spent two minutes with their caretaker. The caretaker would then leave the kitten on its own for two minutes, then return for another two minutes.

The kittens were classified into attachment styles by expert attachment coders using the same criteria used for human infants and dogs. The four different categories are: secure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised.

The researchers reported that 64 per cent of the kittens exhibited a secure attachment style to their owners and were less stressed when they were reunited. The other 36 per cent of kittens had an insecure attachment style and were not emotionally affected when their owners left or returned.

The study confirmed: “The current data supports the hypothesis that cats show a similar capacity for the formation of secure and insecure attachments towards human caregivers previously demonstrated in children.”

It’s perhaps surprising to learn the results as cats often have a reputation for being cold and independent pets. But the researchers add that kittens don’t tend to grow out of the secure attachment style. “Cat attachment style appears to be relatively stable and is present in adulthood,” they wrote in the findings.

And that’s not all. The research also suggests that kittens are just as attached to human caregivers as dogs are. Perhaps felines are a man’s real best friend, after all.

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