Cats may sometimes seem aloof, contrary and utterly nonplussed by humans, but it turns out that might not be the full story. A new study says they bond with humans much as dogs do.
Like dogs, cats display social flexibility in regard to their attachments with humans. The majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment.
Researchers say they have found that, like children and dogs, cats form emotional attachments to their caregivers including something known as "secure attachment" – a situation in which the presence of a caregiver helps them to feel secure, calm, safe and comfortable enough to explore their environment. "Despite fewer studies, research suggests we may be underestimating cats' sociocognitive abilities," the authors of the study write.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology by researchers at Oregon State University in the US, involved owners and their kittens taking part in a simple exercise.
Each owner spent two minutes with their kitten, after which they left the room for two minutes, and then returned for a two-minute reunion. The behaviour of 70 kittens was monitored throughout.
The first group of tests was performed with the owners of nearly 80 kittens, all under the age of eight months. They spent time with their owners for two minutes in an unfamiliar room, then the owners left for two minutes, and then the owners returned for another two minutes.
The results reveal that 64% of the animals appeared less stressed during the reunion with their owner than during the separation - an evidence of secure atta
The authors say the remaining 36% of kittens showed hallmarks of "insecure attachment" – remaining stressed upon reunion, with the majority seeking cuddles and the others either avoiding contact or appearing conflicted about what to do.
A similar split in secure versus insecure attachment style was seen in 38 adult cats, and the team say such a split has also been seen in previous research involving children and dogs with their caregivers.
Further experiments showed that subsequent training and socialization of a subgroup of the kittens had little if any, effect on attachment type.
The researchers say that suggests that while such measures might influence the development of an attachment style to start with, once established such styles are pretty well stable.
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