Maybe It’s Not Your Cat, Maybe It’s You

The conventional thinking when it comes to cats is that if you have an antisocial cat you have a normal cat. The only people who may actually disagree with you on this are people who are actual cat owners. Yet even some of them may side with you because their relationship with their cat can best be described as strained or heading towards a mutually agreed separation.

Some of the blame about this stereotype can be attributed to the Internet, where cat memes are often connected to the aloofness and grumpiness of cats. There may be some truth to this because if you look at the faces of some cats they can’t help being perceived as anything but grumpy. However, it is a lot tougher to find a kitten with a grumpy look.

One connection to this aloofness and general grumpiness is the theory that cats like their independence. Invade my space and there will be consequences, often in the form of walking away with an attitude or running for the open spaces. However, recent research on the social behavior of cats show much the opposite to be the case, that cats actually prefer the company of humans.

But according to the study, this requires humans taking an active part in seeking the attention of their feline companions. The study, published in Behavioral Processes, revealed a simple but common sense behavior – cats were more likely to spend more time with people who were paying attention to them than those who didn’t. Dog owners of lap dogs know this to be true, but the problem is cats are not dogs. Expecting a cat to mimic the behavior of a lap dog is unnatural.

What has amazingly been overlooked is that apparently the social behavior of cats while interacting with humans has not attracted a lot of attention by scientists. Chalk this one up to the unscientific stereotype attached to cats. The current excuse is that the perceived independence of cats made attempts at studying the subject basically a waste of time.

The essence of the study shows that the best way to get a cat’s attention and affection is to make the first move. One important reality the study revealed was that cats are far more comfortable interacting with humans when they are in familiar surroundings. Those of us who have tried to get the attention of a cat crossing the street quickly find out they tend to run the other way. A possibility for this behavior based on the study is that they are headed to more familiar surroundings.

Another aspect of the research confirmed something that both cat owners and non-cat owners already know – cats like the option to turn and walk – or run – away. For those who have seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s generally agree that The Cat deserved an Oscar for his role. At the end of the movie The Cat (he did get a screen credit at the beginning of the film) was smothered twice – first by Audrey Hepburn when she picked him up and stuffed him into her raincoat, then smushed between Hepburn and George Peppard as they smooched later. All the time The Cat just mugged for the camera.

You can move to the 5:00 mark to see the beginning of the smothering, but if you watch the entire clip you might notice the cat-like behavior of Hepburn. Maybe there was plenty of evidence for this study some 50 years ago.

Most people know that cats, more than dogs, are territorial creatures. When they are in familiar territory such as the boundaries set in a home, they have their territory defined for them. Thus, the possibility of them being more attentive to people increases. If we examine this from a human perspective we see similar behaviors. Going to a party and meeting unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar setting makes people nervous in varying degrees. Cats respond in a similar manner. Some are aloof and look for a way out, and some just carefully check out the environment to get familiar with it.

After reading this you might feel more than a bit guilty about the relationship between you and your cat. If you are not a cat owner you might feel guilty that you passed up on the opportunity to make one your own. Well, there’s no need to feel guilty because there is plenty of time to right the wrong.


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