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  • Writer's pictureShannon McKinzie

A Feline's Affection

We know cats for their aloofness and independent attitudes. As a cat sitter, I love the reward of making it into their "Circle of Trust" and receiving their affection - especially the more timid and distant they are. Although sometimes we don't know quite where we stand with our mysterious felines, a study conducted by animal behaviorists at Oregon State University, led by Kristy Vitale, shows scientific evidence for a feline's affection towards their human owners.

The Feline Attachment

Considering that attachment behaviors serve a purpose in the wild, the researchers applied human attachment style basis to cats. Vitale explains that baby monkeys in the absence of their mothers, or a caregiver, they frequently became attached to a soft cloth that they could cling to as a replacement. Baby animals naturally seek the protection of caretakers, "These behaviors allow them to explore and learn about the world around them without getting too far away from their source of security" Vitale points out. Cats show us the same behaviors in their own feline way such as meowing, rubbing against our ankles or cuddling in our laps.

The research team proved attachment behaviors by testing separation and reunion with their owners. The cat spends two minutes in an unfamiliar room with their caregiver, followed by a two-minute alone phase, and then a two-minute reunion phase. Upon the owner’s return from the two-minute absence, cats with an attachment to their caregiver are less stressed and they balance their attention between the person and their surroundings. For example, they continue to explore the room.

The researchers conducted the test on both kittens and adult cats. Behavioral experts watched recordings of the tests and classified the animal’s actions on criteria that have been used to describe attachment patterns in infants and dogs.

Of the 70 kittens that were classifiable, 64.3% were categorized as securely attached and 35.7% were categorized as insecurely attached.

Feline's Chose Owners Over Food

Vitale's research team also performed a study of the human - feline bond. They tested 38 domestic and shelter cats to get an insight of their feelings and preferences. They gave each cat a choice of food, a toy, a strong scent like that of a rodent, catnip or attention from their owners. The results showed an overwhelming 50% chose human interaction with their owners, with only 37 percent chose food. Food doesn't seem to be a big motivator for cats. The researchers, who say they've debunked the stereotypes, believe that social interaction motivates "most cats".

A Feline's Sensitivity

The research team at Oakland University in Michigan determined that cats are sensitive to their owner's emotions. They commonly responded to owner's smiles and frowns with purrs or ruffled. However, when researchers replicated the test with strangers, cats completely held back.

Proving this sensitivity to their owner's feelings allows for greater cat-human communication than we've previously thought. Cats can identify their owner's voices and they pay close attention to tones - responding with greater positivity to quiet and gentle voices. We have the same seat of emotion in our brains, that region connects to other, comparable brain areas in humans and cats alike. Therefore, these corresponding similarities tell us that cats can have emotional experiences that we recognize in one another (human and feline).

Do either studies prove that cat's love their owners? That remains unclear. But it proves that our felines associate pleasantness to their owners. A feline's affection may not be obvious, but the signs exist. A feline's affection and attachment to their owners are scientifically evidenced. Enjoy your human - cat relationship!

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