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Cats get a bad rap. While dogs only outnumber them slightly in the United States, self-identified “dog people” have far greater numbers than “cat people.” A 2014 study, presented at the Association for Psychological Science’s annual meeting, found that just 11% of participants were especially fond of cats. The other 89% would probably be surprised to learn that National Hug Your Cat Day is celebrated on June 4th. Many would probably ask why anyone would want to hug a cat in the first place.
Cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt and they’re still beloved by millions of Americans, but they’re dogged (no pun intended) by a nasty reputation. Dog lovers everywhere enjoy reminding cat lovers that the latter pet is unfriendly, standoffish, and altogether antisocial.
Are Cats Antisocial?
The idea that pet cats don’t appreciate their pet parents could be a myth. At least two recent studies suggest that cats may enjoy affection and attention at least as much as man’s best friend. The earlier of the two concludes that many even prefer human contact to eating.
That first study, conducted in 2017, saw researchers from Oregon State University observe 50 cats from both domestic and shelter settings. The researchers separated these cats from four types of stimuli (human contact, food, scents, and toys) for short periods of time. Researchers then reintroduced stimuli from each category to see which the cats preferred. Human contact turned out to be the most appealing stimulus. Summarizing their findings, the researchers wrote, “We have found that 50% of cats tested preferred interaction with the social stimulus even though they had a direct choice between social interaction with a human and their other most preferred stimuli from the three other stimulus categories.” While conventional wisdom holds that most cats reject humans, these results suggest that especially antisocial cats may actually be the exception.
More Reason to Celebrate
Two years later, researchers at the same school conducted another myth-busting study. Once again, they concluded that antisocial cats are in the minority and attachment is not unique to dogs. Their research involved the same type of experiment used in attachment behavior studies for babies, primates, and dogs. Cats spent two minutes with their caregiver, were separated for two minutes, and reunited for a final two-minute period. The scientists then studied their behavior while employing the same methodology used for other attachment tests. During the final period, around 65% of the cats indicated that they were feeling less stressed, exhibiting signs of a “secure attachment.” The rest were skittish and avoidant, both signs of an “insecure attachment.” Even after six-weeks of socialization training, cats were unlikely to change their behavior and form a different kind of attachment. This suggests that some cats are naturally resistant to human contact, but that a far greater number grow to rely on bonds with humans.
Not every cat will happily take part in Hug Your Cat Day festivities. Felines on the whole, however, definitely haven’t earned their icy reputation. It’s entirely possible that your cat not only appreciates, but actively anticipates gestures like hugs.