“Dog people” and “cat people” have long debated which pet is better. A new study is putting one preconceived notion about stand-offish felines to bed. The study published in Current Biology dug deep into cats’ sometimes misunderstood relationships with humans, and found the felines actually do bond with their owners.
The authors of the study acknowledge dogs have received a considerable amount of scientific attention over the years – perhaps because they form obvious attachment bonds with humans. “Despite fewer studies, research suggests we may be underestimating cats’ socio-cognitive abilities,” the study’s authors write.
The researchers found “cats display distinct attachment styles toward human caregivers,” and evidence shows cats, dogs and humans share social traits – suggesting these traits should not only be attributed to dogs alone.
The study used a Secure Base Test (SBT), conducted on 70 kittens aged 3 to 8 months. At the end of the study, almost all of the kittens were classified into attachment styles, with 64.3% being “securely attached.”
During this test, the kittens spent two minutes in a room with their caregiver, then two minutes alone. Then, they were reunited for two minutes. When the caregivers returned, cats with secure attachments displayed a “reduced stress response and contact-exploration balance with the caretaker.”
Those with insecure attachment, 35.7 percent, remained stressed. These cats were further categorized into ambivalent, avoidance, or having a approach/avoidance conflict.
The criteria has been used when studying human infants and dogs. The researchers found that, because cats are like most domesticated animals, they retain some juvenile traits as they age and so their attachment behavior toward a caregiver would probably stay the same in their adulthood.
To test this, the researchers continued to study 38 of the cats over one year of age and found “distinct attachment styles were evident in adult cats, with a distribution similar to the kitten population (65.8% secure, 34.2% insecure).” So, even adult cats are have “relatively stable” attachments to their caregivers.
When comparing the kittens to children and dogs who underwent the same test, researchers found felines are actually similar to humans. Like cats, 65 percent of children have a secure attachment and 35 percent have insecure attachment to their caregivers. Dogs are 58 percent secure and 42 percent insecure, researchers found.
CBS News has reached out to the lead author of the study, Kristyn R. Vitale of Oregon State University, for more information.