Anecdotal evidence will tell you that cats are dicks. With their aloof demeanor and tendency to put dead stuff in your shoes, dog-lovers are often perplexed by the affection for these mysterious lofty creatures. As Terry Pratchett once wrote: “In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”
However, more rigorous research unearths an unexpected and uncomfortable truth. Maybe cats aren’t just interested in scents, toys, treats, or even your food, maybe they actually like humans?
These were the findings of a new paper published in the journal Behavioural Processes by researchers from Oregon State University and Monmouth University. They gathered 50 adult cats, half of which were pets and half were shelter cats, then placed them in a calm, familiar room for 2.5 hours while depriving them of food and social attention. After their time was up, the cats had “free access” to either food, a feathered toy, a scent, or socializing with humans.
Believe it or not, the top choice for the cats was spending some time interacting with a beloved human.
Nineteen of the cats spent most of their time socializing, 14 cats went with the food, four cats spent their time with the toy stimuli, and just one cat spent most of its time with the scent stimuli.The other cats weren’t recorded due to their “nervous behavior.”
The results could prove useful for future research on the potential for training and testing cats by understanding what rewards work best. “The finding that most cats in both pet and shelter populations prefer social interactions with humans, followed by food, may indicate that these stimuli may be a useful starting point when considering potential reinforcers… or enrichment items for cats,” the authors noted.
These findings also show the vast varieties of personalities and “highly individual” behaviors of the feline ex-fiends, which the researchers say is guided by a mix of genetic mechanisms, life experiences, and their “mood” at the time. Overall, there was not much difference between the response of the shelter cats to the pet cats either.
So there you have it – some of the first ever evidence that cats are not total jerks.