Cats Don't Avoid Strangers Who Behave Badly Towards Their Owners Like Dogs Do

Cats Don't Avoid Strangers Who Behave Badly Towards Their Owners Like Dogs DoShutterstock/Chendongshan

There’s an old stereotype about the difference between cats and dogs. Dogs are loving and fiercely loyal, they say, while cats are aloof and indifferent. Most cat people probably disagree – I certainly find it hard to believe, with my cat purring away in my lap, that she doesn’t care about me.

Overall, cat cognition research suggests cats do form emotional bonds with their humans. Cats seem to experience separation anxiety, are more responsive to their owners’ voices than to strangers’ and look for reassurance from their owners in scary situations.

But a new study, by researchers in Japan, complicates the picture of our relationship with cats. Adapting a method previously used to study dogs, the researchers found cats – unlike dogs – don’t avoid strangers who refuse to help their owners.

Cats Don't Avoid Strangers Who Behave Badly Towards Their Owners Like Dogs DoResearch suggests cats do form emotional bonds with their humans. Shutterstock/PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek

In the experiment, a cat watched as her owner tried to open a box to get at something inside. Two strangers sat on either side of the owner and the owner turned to one of them and asked for help. In “helper” trials, the stranger helped the owner to open the box. In “non-helper” trials, the stranger refused. The other stranger sat passively, doing nothing.

Then, both strangers offered the cat a treat, and the scientists watched to see which the cat approached first. Did she prefer to take food from a helper over a passive bystander? This would indicate a positivity bias, showing the helpful interaction made the cat feel more warmly towards the stranger. Or did she avoid taking food from the non-helper? This negativity bias might mean the cat felt distrustful.

When this method was used to test dogs, they showed a clear negativity bias. The dogs preferred not to take food from a stranger who refused help to their owner. In contrast, the cats in the new study were completely indifferent. They showed no preference for the helpful person and no avoidance of the unhelpful person. Apparently, as far as cats are concerned, food is food.

Social cues

What should we take from this? A tempting conclusion would be that cats are selfish and couldn’t care less how their humans are treated. Although this might fit with our preconceptions about cats, it’s an example of anthropomorphic bias. It involves interpreting cats’ behaviour as though they were furry little humans, rather than creatures with their own distinctive ways of thinking.

To really understand cats, we have to get out of this human-centred mindset and think of them as cats. When we do, what seems most likely isn’t that the cats in this study were selfish, but they weren’t able to pick up on the social interactions between the humans. They weren’t aware that some of the strangers were being unhelpful.

Cats Don't Avoid Strangers Who Behave Badly Towards Their Owners Like Dogs DoDogs evolved from pack animals. Shutterstock/Michael Roeder

Although cats are able to pick up on some human social cues – they can follow human pointing and are sensitive to human emotions – they’re probably less tuned in to our social relationships than dogs are.

Cats were domesticated more recently, and have been changed by domestication far less than dogs. While dogs are descended from social pack animals, cats’ ancestors were largely solitary hunters. Domestication has probably heightened dogs’ existing social skills, but it may not have done the same for cats, who were less socially aware to begin with. So we shouldn’t be too quick to conclude our cats don’t care if people are mean to us. What’s more likely is that they just can’t tell.

Despite their popularity, we still know relatively little about how cats think. Future research might show cats’ understanding of humans is even more limited than we currently realise. Alternatively, it might turn out that cats are better able to recognise human social dynamics in different contexts.

But whatever studies reveal, we should avoid letting preconceptions or anthropomorphism drive our interpretation of cats’ behaviour. Before we judge our feline friends to be indifferent or selfish, we should first try to look at the world through their eyes.The Conversation

About The Author

Ali Boyle, Research Fellow in Kinds of Intelligence (Philosophy), University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

You May Also Like

INNERSELF VOICES

internet company logos
Why Google, Facebook and The Internet are Failing Humanity and Little Critters
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
What is increasingly obvious is the dark side that is engulfing the internet and is spreading…
Full moon in the night sky
Horoscope Current Week: October 18 - 24, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
girl wearing a Covid mask outside carrying a backpack
Are You Ready to Take Off Your Mask?
by Alan Cohen
Sadly, the Covid pandemic has been a rough ride for lots of people. At some point, the ride will be…
girl wearing a hat deep in thought
Putting A New Spin On Our Thoughts and Experiences
by Jude Bijou
What goes on in the world, just is the way it is. How we interpret other people, things, and…
illustration of a film strip with various scenic pictures on each frame
Designing a New Future for Yourself
by Carl Greer PhD, PsyD
In the physical world, things have a past and a future, a beginning, and an end. For example, I’m…
teacher standing in front of students in an open classroom
Becoming Passionate About Public Education Again
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
We are almost all lucky to have someone in our lives to encourage and motivate us and try to show…
people walking and bicycling through a park
Finding Your Way and Flowing with The Mystery of Life
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Life. It's something we all have in common, no matter our religion, our race, our gender, our…
Flower growing through a chain-link fence
So Many Questions... So Many Answers?
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
We go through life with so many questions. Some are simple. What day is it? What will I have for…
The Art of Letting Go
The Art of Letting Go Is Active, Not Passive
by Barry Vissell
Endings may not be so easy, but they are not optional in this life. There comes a time when a…
Life Leads the Way: Visionary Mustard Seed
Life Leads The Way: Visionary Mustard Seed
by Constance Kellough
I was asked to write a short article in which I both explain how I came to be a publisher of…
Facing My Worst Fear and My Greatest Vulnerability
Facing My Worst Fear and My Greatest Vulnerability
by Barry Vissell
What if Joyce dies before me? This is one of my greatest vulnerabilities. Sure, I could die first.…

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.