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article imageCats are securely bonded to their people: New research

By Tim Sandle     Sep 25, 2019 in Science
Cats have a reputation for being aloof and being willing to swap human hosts where food and shelter are involved. However, a new study suggests the socio-cognitive abilities of cats and the depth of their human attachments have been underestimated.
The new study concludes that, much like children and dogs, pet cats are capable of forming secure and insecure bonds with their human caretakers. In this area there has been far greater attention paid to how dogs form bonds with humans, and very little into cats (despite there being far more domestic cats in the world than there are dogs).
READ MORE: Why are cats antisocial? It's actually down to you
Research into cat cognition is at an early stage, although there are research strands looking at: perception, object permanence, memory, physical causality, quantity and time discrimination, cats’ sensitivity to human cues, vocal recognition and communication, attachment bonds, personality, and cognitive health.
A cat called Gizmo  showing all the signs of being sociable.
A cat called Gizmo, showing all the signs of being sociable.
The new research considered human attachment behavior, as with an infant's response to a reunion with their caregiver following a brief absence when in a novel environment. Human research shows that when a caregiver returns, secure infants will rapidly return to relaxed exploration; however, insecure individuals will engage in excessive clinging or avoidance behavior. Similar studies have been conducted on dogs.
The researchers decided to run a similar study on cats. This involved experiments using an adult cat or kitten, which spent two minutes in a novel room with their caregiver followed by two minutes alone. Following this, cat and owner enjoyed a two-minute reunion. The cats' responses to seeing their owners were classified into attachment styles.
The tests showed that cats bond in a way that is very similar to infants, with most cats, like human infants, securely attached to their caregiver.
A cat called Stripe  named after a certain Gremlin.
A cat called Stripe, named after a certain Gremlin.
What the new research draws out, according to lead researcher Kristyn Vitale of Oregon State University, is that "the majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment."
ALSO READ: Yes, your furry friend could help save your life
In terms of further research, the fact that the researchers find that cats share social traits once attributed to dogs and humans alone suggests that broader non-canine-specific mechanisms are at play and these require further examination. With cats specifically, future research can build on the findings to help better design animal shelters for cats.
A cat called Gizmo.
A cat called Gizmo.
The new study into cats has been published in the journal Current Biology. The research paper is titled "Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans."
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