Cats often get a bad rap. Blighted with a reputation for being snooty and aloof, our feline friends are generally considered to tolerate rather than appreciate human company. But new research suggests that cats might actually quite like people after all.
Researchers at the University of Oregon have conducted a trial using 45 felines. The cats, who were a mixture of pets and animals borrowed from rescue charities, were placed in a room with four different kinds of stimulation. They could choose to spend time eating cat food, playing with cat toys, playing with other cats or interacting with humans.
The cats were monitored to see how much time they spent engaging with each of the stimuli. It was discovered that the felines preferred the people to their other options. This “free operant preference assessment” suggests that cats quite like people after all. Clearly my cat was not one of those chosen to take part in this study because he definitely would have headed straight for the food and ripped the hand of any person who went near him!
Cats are rather misunderstood creatures. There is a big difference between being independent and being antisocial. Anyone who has shared their lives with cats will know that most felines will choose to cuddle up to their owners, at least sometimes. But cats are all individuals and some fur balls are much more friendly than others. My own cat is a stroppy, wilful and largely antisocial little sod who doesn’t much like people or other cats. But I have also had cats who were very clingy and affectionate.
I would suggest that the research in Oregon was fatally flawed on the grounds that some of the cats which took part in the study were taken from animal shelters. These animals are often starved of affection and so were bound to be attracted to an opportunity to interact with people. Perhaps the cat food wasn’t very appetizing either!
A study at the University of Lincoln last year reached very different conclusions to the American research. This study featured a “strange situation” test in which cats were placed in an unfamiliar room. These cats did not look for reassurance from their owners or seem to miss them if they left the room. My cat could have happily participated in this experiment as I am sure that he wouldn’t care if I left the planet!
But my own experience tells me that he is the exception rather than the rule. Most felines really are friendly sorts and build strong bonds with people and other cats. On their own terms of course!