Last updated April 10, 2017 at 3:49 pm
Are cats really our friends, or are they just using us as very large fleshy door openers and food providers? It’s a common belief that cats aren’t particularly sociable, but the reality might be the opposite. Cats might be keeping us around for the companionship, just as we keep them.
Pet and shelter cats were tested to see what they were most interested in – food, toys, smells or a human. Firstly researchers found out their preferred object in each category, and then the cats had to choose between the categories. Which would they pick?
When given the option between interacting with a toy, a scented cloth, food or a human, 50% of cats immediately moved towards the human. About 35% of cats preferred the food, and only a handful of cats went for the toy or scented cloth. The cats also spent more time on average with the human than with any other option as well.
So given the options of anything a cat could feasibly desire, they prefer to spend time with the human. In other words, they’re not the anti-social, aloof soloists like people like to think.
The results also show that unlike the perception that all cats behave the same, there are individual preferences. It’s really up to the cat, and most of them do prefer companionship and human interaction over anything else.
So if cats do like human contact after all and aren’t just motivated by food, where does this reputation come from? Unsurprisingly, it might be from advocates of their greatest foe – dog behaviour researchers.
Dog behaviour is extensively studied by numerous dog behaviour laboratories around the world. However cats have been studied far less due to a perceived difficulty in getting them to behave and act how researchers wanted. This kind of reinforced the perception that cats are aloof and less sociable. But when cats have tried to be studied previously, they’ve usually been forced to try behaviour tests designed for dogs. However, it goes without saying, cats and dogs are different, so if you want to study a cat’s behaviour, the test needs to be designed to suit a cat, not a dog.
As the researcher behind the current study, Vitale Shreve says, “If you’re having trouble measuring behaviour in the species, it’s probably not the species that’s the problem. It’s the methodology.”