According to a recent study, pet cats don’t depend on their owners as a source of safety and security.
It has long been established as a stereotype that cats are much more independent than dogs, but now this has been proven by scientific data. The study, published in the PLOS One Journal, was based on an experiment called the “Strange Situation”, conducted by psychologist Ainsworth in the 1970s, on human subjects.
In that test, a primary caregiver (usually a mother) was placed with a baby in an unfamiliar setting. Afterwards, the infant was left alone, and then it was joined by a stranger, who walked in and tried to engage him/her in play.
The behavior of the baby was studied as these circumstances changed, and researchers noticed that some kids would be playful and happy when their caregivers were present, exhibit signs of fear or distress in their absence, and welcome them with joy upon being reunited. These babies were “securely attached”, which means that they saw their mother figures as a source of care and protection.
There were however other infants who reacted indifferently to the caregiver’s absence or presence, or who responded unpredictably. These forms of attachment are important to identify because they may help anticipate future behavior. Usually, securely attached children are more self-confident and more successful when it comes to academic results or interpersonal relationships.
A similar experiment was conducted on dogs in 2013, and it proved that, just like babies, canine pets tend to become attached to their caregivers and react negatively in their absence.
However, this recent study conducted by English researchers Daniel Mills and Alice Potter on 20 cats, shows that felines are much more erratic in their behavior, when being exposed to similar controlled conditions. In the experiment, owners left their cats in an unfamiliar room, and then a stranger entered and tried to play with the felines.
Researchers monitored the amount of contact sought by the pet cats, any potential symptoms of distress, as well as the level of passive behavior. Overall, the felines didn’t show clear signs of attachment or separation anxiety, except for meowing more frequently when they were left with a stranger, but this could simply signify their frustration, not their dependence on their owners.
The animal behaviorists concluded therefore that unlike dogs, cats don’t develop a childlike need for their owners, and are fickle in their attachment, sometimes displaying signs of dependence, and other times acting completely indifferent. This shouldn’t necessarily be surprising, given the fact that dogs are pack animals, so they tend to rely on others, whereas felines are solitary hunters.
Nevertheless, these findings shouldn’t be understood as proof that cats don’t love their owners, but simply as a confirmation of their autonomous nature and reluctance to depend on others for protection or reassurance.
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