Exactly How Aloof Are Cats: Is it a Myth?


There is a popular perception that cats are cold creatures with either no or next-to-no regard for humans. This contrasts with the popular perception of dogs, which are seen as being very friendly towards humans on top of being very subservient to humans. However, it should be mentioned that there is evidence that cats are fonder of humans than what interested individuals might have expected, though they express it in a different way than their canine counterparts.

Is the Popular Perception of Cats True?

For starters, there is a recent study suggesting that cats can form bonds with cat owners. In short, scientists used what is called a secure base test, which is the same kind of test used to gauge the bonds between dogs and their caretakers as well as between primates and their caretakers. Basically, said test involved cats and cat owners being in an unfamiliar room for two minutes, the cat owners leaving the room for two minutes, and then the cat owners returning to the room for two minutes. This is useful because a lot of living beings are stressed out by unfamiliar surroundings, meaning that their reaction to their caretaker’s presence can reveal much about the nature of the relationship between the two.

As it turned out, about two-thirds of the cats showed behavior that suggested that they saw their cat owners as a “safe base” in their unfamiliar surroundings. For those who are curious, said felines greeted their cat owners upon said individuals’ return before going back to exploring their unfamiliar surroundings, though they would head back to their cat owners from time to time. The scientists concluded that this could be seen as a sign of a secure attachment between the cats and the cat owners. In contrast, if the cats showed signs of fear as well as anxiousness such as licking their lips, twitching their tails, and even avoiding their cat owners, that was interpreted as a sign of an insecure attachment. The latter doesn’t necessarily mean that the cats didn’t have a good relationship with their cat owners, but it did mean that the cats didn’t see their cat owners as a source of security in their lives.

Regardless, the study is important because it suggests that cats are more than capable of forming strong bonds with cat owners. About two-thirds might not seem like a very high percentages, but it should be mentioned that about 65 percent of human infants show secure attachments with their caretakers while about 58 percent of dogs show secure attachments with dog owners.

Having said this, it should be mentioned that there is still much to needs to be done in order to confirm the findings of the study as well as make sense of the findings of the study. For instance, while one of the scientists involved in the study speculated that the ability of cats to bond with cat owners could be an adaptation of the ability of cats to bond with their mothers, that is speculation and nothing but speculation for the time being. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that another scientist has speculated that the study might be underestimating the ability of cats to form bonds with cat owners.

For those who are curious, the logic is that more cats spend either all or almost all of their time indoors, meaning that they have less exposure to new environments. As a result, it is possible that some cats do have secure attachment to their cat owners but can’t show it because they are overwhelmed by their fear from being thrust into unfamiliar surroundings. Of course, this can’t be confirmed as being either true or false for the time being because there is still research that needs to be carried out.

Why Is the Popular Perception of Cats So Popular?

As for why people think that cats are cold, there are various potential explanations that have been offered up. For instance, a cat’s way of showing affection is more subtle than a dog’s way of showing affection, which isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of people are much more familiar with the latter than the former. For example, purring can be a sign of feline affection. Unfortunately, this is complicated by the fact that purring can also be used as a way to signal that the cat is in pain. Likewise, a cat can sometimes choose to express their fondness by slow blinking with normal rather than dilated eyes at people, which is the kind of thing that can very easily be missed as well as very easily be misinterpreted. On top of this, when a cat chooses to show their belly to a cat owner, that can be a sign of affection as well because exposing their vulnerable underside is a considerable show of trust.

Moving on, there could be something of a self-reinforcing phenomenon that is happening. Basically, scientists seem to be less enthusiastic about conducting research on cats, which might be explainable to some extent by the belief that cats are difficult to work with because they aren’t very sociable. Unfortunately, fewer studies make for fewer findings, meaning that it is rarer for there to be results that can challenge conventional wisdom on this matter.

Besides these, there is the matter of inertia as well. Simply put, conventional wisdom is conventional wisdom because it is entrenched in the popular consciousness. Certainly, it can change with sufficient effort on the part of interested individuals combined with sufficient passage of time. However, both of those things are needed for that to happen, particularly since research into the relevant topics is still so early that much remains unknown to us at this point in time. As such, it seems reasonable to speculate that there will come a time when most people have a more accurate belief in the ability of cats to form bonds with cat owners so long as interested individuals continue to look into the issue and continues to spread information about the issue.

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