The exact nature of the relationship between cats and cat owners is something that sees a fair amount of debate and discussion. Sometimes, the tone is jocular, as shown by whenever someone makes jokes about cats being cold, uncaring masters of their human servants. Other times, this debate and discussion can be much more serious, with an excellent example being how a wide range of institutions are conducting serious studies using scientific means.
Recently, researchers at the University of Liverpool conducted a study of cat personalities for the purpose of comparing them to their cat owners’ personalities. In short, they asked cat owners about their cats using a set of characteristics called the Feline Five, which was used to rate the cats’ personalities based on their dominance, their friendliness, their impulsiveness, their neuroticism, and their extroversion. Furthermore, they asked the cat owners about their own characteristics as well, which overlapped to some extent with the Feline Five but not perfectly. Once the information was collected, the researchers compared the cats’ personalities with the cat owners’ personalities to see if there were any correlations.
As it turned out, there were. In short, the researchers found that impulsive cat owners were likelier to have impulsive cats. Similarly, neurotic cat owners were likelier to have neurotic cats and so on and so forth. With that said, while their findings are interesting, there are still a lot of issues that mean that interested individuals should remain cautious of them for the time being.
For starters, establishing correlation isn’t the same as establishing causation. This is because even if there seems to be a correlation between two factors, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one of the two factors is causing the other because there are other potential explanations. For example, it is possible that there is a third factor that is causing both of the other two, with the classic example being hotter temperatures causing more people to eat ice cream as well as causing more people to head to the swimming pools. In other words, causation necessitates correlation, but correlation doesn’t necessitate causation. Due to this, while the researchers have speculated about cat owners finding cats that are more similar to them being more pleasing to them, they have stopped short of making solid claims along those lines for very good reasons.
Moving on, it is important to remember that the study is based on the reports of the cat owners. Generally speaking, most people aren’t perfect, unbiased observers of their own characteristics, meaning that there is real reason to be uncertain about the reliability of the cat owners’ self-assessments. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the cat owners aren’t getting an accurate read on their cats’ personality but are instead seeing their own characteristics reflected in their cats. In other words, while self-reporting can be a useful source of a wide range of information, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the information produced in this manner will be 100 percent reliable.
Still, the University of Liverpool study is useful as a counter to the common perception that the connection between cats and cat owners is tenuous at best. Simply put, this isn’t true because there are indications that cats care about cat owners to some extent. Granted, they aren’t as good as dogs at reading humans, perhaps because they evolved under a very different set of circumstances from their canine counterparts. However, there is plenty of evidence that cats are capable of recognizing cat owners. Something that can remain true for years and years after they have been separated from one another. Likewise, while people joke about cats seeing cat owners as their social inferiors, the evidence suggests that this isn’t the case because we have a pretty good idea of how cats treat their social inferiors, which aren’t the same set of behaviors that they use for cat owners under most circumstances. This is relevant because cats seem to treat humans using the same cues that they use for other cats, though to be perfectly honest, a lot more research is still needed to determine exactly what cats do and do not get, which is critical for understanding the exact nature of the connection between cats and cat owners. In this light, the University of Liverpool study is but one step in a very long journey that is being undertaken at the moment.