Don’t let that aloof insouciance fool you, scientists have found that cats prefer human social interaction over everything else, even food!
While the eagerness of a dog to please its human companion is often evident in just about every cell of its body, cats are a different animal altogether. The snubs, the ennui, the “why would I give you the time of day when I’m so obviously beautifully grooming myself?’ A dog eagerly waits at the window for you to come home from work; a cat might deign to twitch an ear upon hearing you enter the door. A dog seeks no less than 100 ear scratches and belly rubs a day. A cat? One stroke, two strokes, "ENOUGH!"
Or at least that's how the stereotypes play out. Truth be told, my big fluff, while clearly of royal birth, is nonetheless wonderfully personable and affectionate. But even the authors of a new study looking at cat cognition note the “common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable."
The scientists from Oregon State University were investigating cat preferences in reference to broader research of cats’ complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. The disconnect between a cat’s seemingly aloof and untrainable behavior and the reality, the study notes, “may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for.”
Working with a selection of cats from both shelter and pet populations, the researchers found that between human social interaction, food, toy, and scent – wait for it, the cats often went for the human.
“Although there was clear individual variability in cat preference, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food. This was true for cats in both the pet and shelter population.”
So there you have it … the next time you see your indifferent lion lazing in the sun, know that the jig is up – he secretly likes you more than food.
The study, Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat (Felis silvestris catus) preferences, is published in Behavioural Processes.