Cats have a reputation for being fiercely independentask any cat lover, and they'll tell you that some kitties rarely show any interest in playing with them or showing them affection, save for mealtime. But even cats that disappear in your home for hours on end depend on you more than you may knowand in most cases, consider you an emotional rock, it turns out. According to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, cats often display hallmark signs of attachment towards their caregivers in experiments, not too unlike the attachment styles of dogs and babies.
Researchers at Oregon State University have established evidence that suggests that cats form unique, complex, and deeply emotional relationships with their owners. Their study's results provide new evidence that cats are far from the uninterested beings that many consider them to be; the experiment began when researchers used an attachment test that's historically been used on primates and dogs. Scientists also looked for telltale emotional signs based on human infant literature. The experiment was made up of 70 kittens, who were put in a room with a caregiver for two minutes before being left alone for two minutes and then finally reunited. Researchers observed and organized their data into different categories: secure, ambivalent, disorganized, and avoidant.
Westend61 / Getty Images
More than 60 percent of the kittens in the room displayed what's known as a secure attachment style, meaning they were distressed when their caregiver left the room, but demonstrated attachment and exploration when they returned. About 30 percent in the same feline group were categorized as insecurely attached, which means they remained stressed after the human re-entered the room and were immediately seeking contact, or total avoidance, altogether. Per the researchers' notes, the ratio of secure and insecure attachments among the cats were very similar to those found in human children's results.
"Like dogs, cats display social flexibility in regard to their attachments with humans," Kristyn Vitale, a lead researcher on the study at Oregon State University, said in a press release. "The majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment."
To be sure of their findings, researchers replayed the same scenario with the same kitties almost two months later, which yielded similar results. They also found the same pattern among older cats (more than a year old) when the experiment was repeated. While the results show that cats' emotional development is a lot more complex than we may have guessed, scientists say there is so much more work to be done to fully understand these multifaceted animals.