Your cat loves you, according to a study from the State of Oregon
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A new study by Oregon State University reveals that pet cats attach themselves to their human owners in the same way that children and dogs attach themselves to their owners.
This is the first time researchers have empirically demonstrated that cats have the same main attachment styles as babies and dogs," said Kristyn Vitale, lead author of the study and researcher at the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.
"In dogs and cats, attachment to humans can represent an adaptation of the relationship between the offspring and the master," Vitale said. "Attachment is biologically relevant behavior. Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, this attachment behaviour is flexible and the majority of cats use the human as a source of comfort."
In their study, OSU researchers involved cats in a "secure baseline test", similar to a test that was administered to infants and dogs to study their attachment behaviours. During this test, the cat spends two minutes in a new room with his master, followed by a two-minute phase alone, then a two-minute reunion phase.
After the two-minute absence, cats that attach themselves to the person are less stressed and balance their attention between the person and their environment. For example, they continue to explore the room. On the other hand, cats with insecure attachments show signs of stress such as squirming their tails and licking their lips, and stay away from the person (avoidance) or cling to them by jumping on their lap without moving (ambivalence).
The researchers performed the test on kittens and adult cats. Behavioural specialists observed the test records and classified the animal's actions according to the criteria used to describe attachment patterns in infants and dogs.
Of the 70 kittens that could be classified, 64.3% were classified as securely attached and 35.7% were classified as poorly attached.
The researchers then wanted to know if socialization training would change these percentages. After six weeks of training, there were no significant differences.
"Once an attachment style has been established between the cat and her caregiver, it seems to remain relatively stable over time, even after a training and socialization intervention," says Vitale.
Cats, like most domestic animals, retain several juvenile traits until maturity and remain dependent on humans for care, Vitale said. The researchers therefore tested 38 cats aged one year or more. The percentages almost reflected the kitten population - 65.8% safe and 34.2% unsafe.
It was surprising, Mr. Vitale said, to see how closely the proportion of safe and unsafe attachments in adult kitten and cat populations closely matched the human infant population. In humans, 65% of infants are well attached to their caregiver.
"Cats that are not safe can run and hide or seem to stay away," said Vitale. "There has long been a biased way of thinking that all cats behave in this way. But the majority of cats use their owners as a source of security. Your cat depends on you to feel safe when he is stressed."
Vitale obtained her PhD from OSU in 2018 and conducted this research as a graduate research fellow of the National Science Foundation.
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The co-authors of the study were Monique Udell, Assistant Professor in the OSU Department of Animal Sciences and Pathways and Director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab; and Alexandra Behnke, a veterinary student at the OSU.