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Science Shows Dogs Love Owners, Cats Don't


Dog people might have a few snide words for their friends that prefer cats, as three scientific studies have revealed new insight into the way dogs and cats think and feel. These studies each featured a different focus but together they appear to yield a concrete result: dogs love their owners, while cats do not.

Two of the studies focus specifically on cats or dogs and came to conclusions that align with the findings of a third study, which compared dogs and cats directly. Each study was designed to look at the emotions and thought behind pet actions and though each uses a unique methodology, their results appear to be consistent with one another.

She Loves Me

Dogs were recently attributed the thinking capacity of young children in a study that focused on the brain activity of dogs in certain situations and compared the activity to that of humans in similar situations. Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), researchers were able to observe the activity of well-known structures in the brain and establish a correlation that confirms that dog’s feel as much emotional connection and sentience as a young child.

A current study at the University of Lincoln is comparing dogs and cats directly using only behavior study methods. This experiment replicated the set-up of a well known psychological experiment used with human children to determine varying stages of attachment. The experiments, based on Ainsworth’s Strange Situation, introduce the subject to their caretaker and a stranger in different combinations and their reactions are measured.

In the experiment, the reaction of the subject to the stranger, relative to their caretaker is a determining factor in their level of attachment. The original experiment found that three types of attachment can be readily distinguished from one another: secure, ambivalent and avoidant. Dogs were shown to have a similar reaction as healthy children, showing attachment levels that indicate they find comfort, joy and safety to be provided by the caretaker.

She Loves Me Not

The same experiment which replicated Ainsworhth’s Strange Situation also replicated the experiment with cats. Unfortunately for cat caretakers, the results revealed that cat’s differed from dogs drastically in their level of attachment. Cats would often completely ignore their caretaker to interact with the stranger.

Even pets with ambivalent attachment should experience distress from a missing caretaker or avoidance of strangers. Cat’s tendency to interact with strangers comfortably is indicative of a tendency to avoid attachment. Another study performed in Japan and published in an edition of Animal Cognition indicates that cats tend to be callous when it comes to loyalty to caretakers.

The study examined the way in which cat’s respond to the voices of their owners when compared to the voices of strangers. The experiment exposed each cat to recordings of five different strangers and their owner each calling the cat’s name. The cat’s responses indicated that the cat’s seemed to recognize the voices of their owners, stimulating a different response than their response to the voice of the stranger.

However, despite this recognition, it was apparent to the behavioral psychologists that the cat’s physical response did not indicate a desire to respond the voice but rather only a desire to determine its source. This indicates that when cat’s seem to recognize their owner as a familiar voice but have no attachment to that voice or person.

Case Closed?

The experiments concerning cats from the University of Lincoln and University of Tokyo both used sample sizes of at least twenty cats that showed convincing evidence that cat’s aren’t attached to their owners. One avid cat enthusiast responded to the studies, “I guess it doesn’t matter as long as they’re willing to tolerate me.”

What do you think about the studies? Does your cat love you like a parent? Leave your thoughts about the study and your feline or canine companions in the comment section.

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