Study Wants to Know if Cats Feel Empathy

Cats are unique creatures who have amazing personalities but many of these beloved pets seem to have a split personality. On one hand, they can be the most affectionate and loving companions, but they can also be aloof and act like they don’t care about their human owners at all. This leaves us wondering if our cats have the capacity for showing empathy.

Mirage News reported on a new study that aims to determine if cats have the ability or desire to show empathy for humans. the study was conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex led by Kren Hiestand. Felines and humans have a long history together and the domestication of cats has brought the two species even closer together. The relationships among humans and cats revolve around humans providing for the food, shelter, and emotional support of cats when the felines provide companionship and emotional support for their owners. Some are working cats who help keep homes, farms, and businesses free of rodents. The greater question is can cats show empathy for people?

The nature of the study

The team of researchers observed cats analyze how much cats connect with their owners on an empathetic level by measuring how often they catch a yawn after observing their owners doing the same thing. It’s been established that yawning in humans is a behavior that can be transferred to an animal when there is a level of empathy in existence between the two. As crazy as it sounds, you can be influenced by the yawning of another person and start doing it yourself when there is empathy between you. The study was built around the frequency that cats catch yawns from their owners. Other research shows that yawning is one of the ways that lions communicate with each other.

In other animal groups, evidence suggests that yawning is contagious. When yawning becomes contagious it suggests that there is an emotional and social connection between the first person to yawn and the next to yawn. Researchers further investigated whether or not empathy plays a role in the bond between cats and humans. By nature, cats are more solitary creatures, but has their domestication altered the connection that they have with humans to the point of being empathetic? The study is ongoing and has not yet yielded any conclusive results, but it is hoped that it will answer at least some of the questions we have about feline empathy and their true feelings about their human owners.

Do cats love their owners?

According to Purina, some cats show affection to their owners. This is obvious when your cat seeks out your company, rubs up against your let, purrs, puts his face on yours, and rubs your tummy with a paw massage. These are acts that draw him closer to you physically and they are gestures of affection. While it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty that they feel intense love for humans, sometimes their actions suggest that they do. Cats are also capable of forming attachments to certain humans and seek out their company over others. This is evidence of a stronger emotional attachment that you could construe as love and affection.

Differences in feline behaviors

Felines are much different than humans when it comes to showing emotions. Although we socialize them from the time they’re kittens and they learn to distinguish appropriate behaviors from inappropriate, how do they feel? This is the question that researchers are busy investigating. The truth is that we don’t know for certain. Each cat has a unique personality. Some are friendly while others are more standoffish by nature. We see the same type of behaviors in humans and other animals. The greatest problem with cats is that we can’t speak openly with them about their feeling for feedback. Instead, we rely on their behaviors and actions to signal what might be going on inside their heads. Much of the research is based on observation of behaviors under specific circumstances.

Understanding feline communications

Maddie’s Fund attempts to educate cat owners about the things that we currently know about cat behaviors and the reasons why they act the way that they do. They’re wonderfully complicated animals capable of showing intense love and affection, then withdrawing it just as quickly as if they could care less about those around them. The site offers a variety of courses that help cat owners and animal welfare workers to learn how to read feline behaviors to understand what cats are trying to communicate. Although there are still plenty of gray areas in cat psychology that leaves us scratching our heads, research has also provided us with some great insights into cat communications. There are many things that we do know that can help us better understand what our cats are trying to tell us at any given time.

Final thoughts

Cats and humans have formed an intense bond through the past several centuries. They serve us well by keeping rodents at bay, and keeping us company so we’re not lonely. They’re entertaining and interesting animals that often behave in ways that are hard to understand. There is much left to learn about why cats act the way they do, and what their actions mean. Although researchers understand some of the basics about cat communication, we have yet to learn what the emotional capacity of these creatures is, and how far their ability to have empathy for humans truly extends. We have yet to confirm whether or not cats have empathy for humans, but we can rest assured that they do have the capacity and tendency to develop close emotional bonds with people. They show love and come to us when they want to receive our attention and affection. We can’t expect them to possess the full spectrum of emotions that are present in humans, but we’re still curious and continue to look for answers to these questions.

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