Study Finds Cats Are Too Socially Inept to Be Loyal

Anyone who has ever kept both cats and dogs will know that there are significant differences in how each species acts around humans. Dogs are often referred to as man’s best friend due to their loyalty to their owner and the strong bond that can develop. On the other hand, cats are often aloof and may only want affection on their terms and not at their owner’s command. Although these stereotypical traits of cats and dogs are well-known, a new study shows that cats are possibly even less loyal than first thought. However, it is possible that this is because they lack social understanding of different situations, rather than that they are selfish.

The Japanese Study into Cat Loyalty

A new study came to light when the researchers published their findings in Animal Behavior and Cognition in February. The study was undertaken by a group of researchers based at Kyoto University in Japan. They aimed to test cats’ loyalty by adapting a research technique that had previously been used in a similar study into dog behavior. There were 36 domestic cats involved in the experiment, of which 23 lived in cat cafes, and 13 were house cats. The experiment also involved the cats’ owners, a container, and actors who took on the role of helpers. In the study, the owners were divided into a ‘helpers’ group and a ‘non-helpers’ group.

The ‘helper’ group was given a container to open. When they struggled, the actor appeared to help them complete the task. The other group of owners was also given a container, but the actor turned away from them and refused to offer any help. Both groups also had a third person who remained neutral and neither offered nor refused help. After this scenario, both the actor and the neutral person offered the cat food. The aim was to see if the cats would only take food from the person who acted as a friend and helped their owner and refuse food from those who acted as a foe and refused to help their owner.

The Findings of the Cat Behavior Study

In the previous study involving dogs, the dogs only accepted food from the actors who had helped their owner and refused food from the actors that did not offer help. According to Live Science, the researchers were interested to learn whether the cats would behave in the same way as the dogs. However, the cats’ behavior differed significantly from that of dogs. They did not seem to care whether the person had acted as a friend or foe to their owners, as they indiscriminately accepted food from anyone. The findings led the researchers to ask whether the results meant that cats are less loyal than dogs.

Conclusions from the Study

The results of the study may lead people to assume that dogs are loyal and cats are selfish. However, the researchers from Kyoto University believe that is not necessarily the case, as it is just as important to consider the reasons for the behavior as the behavior itself. According to the researchers, it is possible that the cats were not showing selfish and disloyal behavior. They point out that cats may simply lack the ability to identify social clues in situations. It is possible that they did not understand the goal or aim of their owners’ behavior, and there are no studies that have investigated whether cats can pick up these social cues. They also noted that even if the cat understood their owner’s goals and intentions, it was still possible that they could not pick up any negative intentions of the actors in the study. The researchers concluded that the cats might not have known that the actors were refusing to give the owners help.

What Do the Findings Mean?

The researchers were able to compare the results of the cat study with those from the dog study. They concluded that cats did not share the same social evaluation skills as dogs. Unlike dogs, cats have not been selected to live alongside humans in the same way. Dogs have been bred and artificially selected because of their cooperative traits. The same has not happened with cats. Ali Boyle is a research fellow for the Kinds of Intelligence Project, which is based at the University of Cambridge. Boyle wrote about her views on the study in The Conversation. She described classifying cats as selfish based on the study’s findings as anthropomorphic bias. According to Boyle, it is classifying them based on human traits, without considering that they are a different species with different ways of thinking and behaving.

Boyle added that dogs were domesticated by humans much earlier than cats and have evolved accordingly. Therefore, dogs are more likely to pick up on social clues from human interactions. It is likely that cats simply do not have the same understanding of social relationships, so labeling them selfish is unfair. Another important point that she makes relates to how each species lives in the wild. While canines are pack animals that live in social packs, felines are solitary hunters who often do not mix with other cats outside their families. When each species’ natural living environment is considered, it makes sense to conclude that dogs already have existing social skills that cats may lack. The reliability of the results of the study has also come into question due to the high proportion of café cats used in the study. The researchers note that although there was no difference in house cats’ and café cats’ behavior during the study, it is possible that café cats do not have the same bond with their owners as house cats. A further issue is the small number of cats in the study. Therefore, it is not possible to determine that all cats will behave in the same way from this study.

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