Put away your notions of cats as distant, solitary creatures. According to a recent study, domestic cats and people bond in a similar way to how dogs and kids do.
Scientists watch how an infant reacts to its caregiver’s return after a brief absence while in a novel environment to assess the bonding behavior of people. Newborns who feel secure resume their casual exploration, but insecure infants are more likely to cling to or avoid their caretakers. The attachment bonding behaviors of both dogs and monkeys have been examined using this “safe base test.”
This time, scientists were interested in seeing if cats react similarly. To do this, researchers watched 70 cats as they entered a new room and stayed there for two minutes with a carer. They then had a two-minute alone period before reconnecting with their particular someone after two minutes had passed. Like people and dogs, cats with safe attachment styles were less anxious and would act normally when their owner came home.
According to study author Kristyn Vitale, from Oregon State University, “attachment to people may represent an adaption of the offspring-caretaker link in both dogs and cats.” About 65 percent of cats demonstrated secure attachment types, which is the same percentage as human infants. “An important biological behavior is attachment. Our research shows that when cats are dependent on a human, their attachment behavior is adaptable and that most cats find comfort in people.”
As an alternative, stressed-out cats might flick their tails, lick their lips, run, hide, act distant, or remain motionless in their owners’ laps.
There has long been a misconception that all cats act in this way. But the majority of cats seek protection from their owner. When your cat is anxious, they rely on you to make them feel safe, according to Vitale.
The goal of the study was to see whether these attachment relationships might be shattered. They engaged in socialization training with cats and their owners over the course of six weeks, but they discovered that there were no discernible changes; once an attachment style had been established, it remained constant over time until maturity.
The implications for cats and kittens living in shelters and whether socializing and fostering possibilities may have an impact on their attachment styles are what Vitale’s team plans to investigate next, she says.