Cats Are Not Inherently Antisocial Creatures. It’s Just You


A new study suggests you might be projecting your own feelings about cats onto them. Reports it was funded by Big Cat are unfounded, say cats. lario/shutterstock

Cats have a reputation for being haughty and stand-offish but a study recently published in the journal Behavioral Processes suggests this notoriety is entirely unjustified. Cats aren't inherently antisocial creatures. It's just you.

Researchers at Oregon State University recruited 46 cats to partake in a series of two experiments to see how well they coped with human company. Unsurprisingly, they preferred spending time with a person who was enthusiastic and attentive, as opposed to a person who ignored them, but cat-haters might be surprised by just how much they chose socializing over alone time.


"[T]his body of research indicates domestic cats detect human attentional state and modify their behavior in response, demonstrating they are sensitive to human social cues," the study authors explain.

In the first of two experiments, the cats (half pets, half from a shelter) spent two minutes with a person who sat on the floor and didn't move. The cats then spent a further two minutes with the same person, who was still sitting on the floor but was now allowed call out to the feline and pet it if and when it approached. The second of the two experiments involved the same processes but with the pet cats and their owners.

"In both groups, we found [cats] spent significantly more time with people who were paying attention to them than people who were ignoring them," lead author Kristyn Vitale said, reports The Washington Post.

Visualization of the amount of time the cats spent in proximity to the human. White dots represent individual cats. Oregon State University.

Noticeably, the shelter cats spent more time seeking human attention than their pampered peers, even when that human was unable to call out or pet the animals. This may reflect a greater need for attention, a result of a tougher upbringing, or that life in a shelter makes them less wary towards unfamiliar people, the study authors say. 


This may not be enough to persuade dog-lovers who are entrenched in their views, but it does seem to be backed up by previous research, also conducted at Oregon State, which found cats choose to spend more time interacting with humans than they do with toys or food. Other studies have shown that cats have become sensitive to human cues, from hand movements and vocalizations to moods and emotions. All of which makes a lot of sense from a domestication point of view.

"Overall, the ability to follow human cues has likely contributed to the cat’s success in human homes, as seen with the domestic dog," the authors write.

No doubt, just like people, feline sociability exists on a spectrum from Grumpy Cat to Top Cat. Talking from personal experience, for example, my cat is much more "typically dog" than my dog, who should probably come with his own warning sign. 

But, scientific evidence aside, it is unlikely they will lose their reputation for being haughty antisocial jerks anytime soon.


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