Cats are often viewed to be cold, aloof creatures who regard their humans as being more like doting servants than beloved parents.
However, new research suggests we could well be underestimating their powers to care and love for us; which may be even more powerful than the much-lauded devotion exhibited by their canine counterparts.
Researchers from Oregon State University have discovered cats do indeed become bonded to their caregiving humans; showing distinct attachment styles much like dogs and babies. And once that bond is forged, it is there for keeps.
For the study, researchers conducted an experiment previously used to measure levels of attachment amongst dogs and primates; with data then compared and contrasted with findings from tests on human babies.
70 adorable little kittens between the ages of three and eight months were placed in a room with their caregivers for two minutes before being left for two minutes. They were then reunited with their caregivers, with researchers having observed their behaviour throughout each of these three stages.
Researchers then categorised the kittens’ behaviour into four distinct attachment styles: secure, ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
Similar experiments on human infants found 65 per cent of babies demonstrate secure attachment to their caregiver, and this is surprisingly similar to the results of this study.
Over 60 per cent of the whiskery participants demonstrated a secure attachment style; meaning they became distressed when the caregiver left the room while showing a healthy balance of attachment and exploration upon their return.
Approximately 30 per cent of the kitties exhibited an insecure attachment style; meaning they were still stressed after being reunited with their human mama or papa; displaying excessive contact, avoidance, or approach/avoidance conflict (disorganised attachment).
This was certainly no fluke. Indeed, findings remained fairly consistent following a two-month check up and a test with adult cats over the age of one year. This would suggest your cat – however haughty they may appear – will form a bond with you for life.
According to this study:
Cat attachment style appears to be relatively stable and is present in adulthood. In free-roaming settings both cats and dogs are facultatively social species and live individually or in groups based on environmental pressures and availability of resources.
Our study provides evidence that this social flexibility extends to cross-species attachments, suggesting that, like dogs, cats are social generalists . Attachment to humans may represent a flexible adaptation of offspring-caretaker attachment that has facilitated success in anthropogenic environments.
In what will no doubt fuel water cooler debate worldwide, the feline participants demonstrated a slightly higher secure attachment rate than was noted in a 2018 experiment involving 59 companion dogs.
As reported by Science Alert, Oregon State University animal scientist Kristyn Vitale said:
Like dogs, cats display social flexibility in regard to their attachments with humans,
The majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment.
Going forward, researchers will explore the significance of these findings in relation to the thousands of kittens and cats who end up in animal shelters; looking at how socialisation and fostering opportunities can affect attachment security amongst shelter cats.
Turns out we’ve underestimated cat loyalty big time. Any other dog people feeling a bit guilty right about now for referring to cats as evil sofa demons?
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.