A team of scientists from Oregon State University and New Jersey's Monmouth University set out to redeem cats' bad reputation as unsociable and condescendingly independent companions.
Researchers decided to observe this noble animal and apply similar cognitive tests that have already been tried out in 2014 on dogs and tortoises, with the purpose of clearing up common misconceptions about cats' seemingly aloof nature.
Their study, published March 24 in the journal Behavioural Processes, assessed the animals' sociability by testing their inclination to prefer either of four external stimuli or incentives: human social interaction, food, toys, and scent.
Human Contact, Better Than Food
Much like Galapagos tortoises, which were also found to favor interactions with their keepers (such as shell scrubbing and neck rubbing), cats taking part in the study unequivocally opted for human contact in detriment of all other stimuli, including food.
As it turns out, "while it has been suggested that cat sociality exists on a continuum, perhaps skewed toward independency," they actually relish in our company and enjoy cuddling and unwinding with humans even more so than dogs, which in the 2014 study proved to prefer food to petting.
The experiment enlisted 50 cats that came both from private homes and animal shelters and involved depriving them of all four stimuli for the course of a few hours so that researchers could see which one the cats would go for when each inventive was reintroduced.
Of all the cats participating in the research, 50 percent elected to spend time with people instead of their other most favorite stimuli from the four given categories, while about 37 percent listened to their gut and chose a meal over good company.
New Insight Into Cat Training
As researchers explain in their paper, although cats are generally perceived as reluctant and difficult to train, this might be because pet owners have a hard time understanding what these animals prefer and what motivates them to work on different tasks.
According to study authors, previous investigations into feline cognitive skills revealed these creatures possess "complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities."
The new study provides deeper insight into animal behavior and could potentially lead to the development of specific training strategies, which would enable pet owners to use positive reinforcement instead of punishment methods whenever house cats misbehave.
The team plans to continue their observations by establishing whether the animals' breed can influence their social behavior as well as to what extent past experiences with humans affect cats' preference for any of the four stimuli.