Cats: We’re Just Not That Into You

Folks have done tons of studies examining the mental characteristics of dogs, chimps, dolphins, fish, octopii, and more (interesting aside: dogs respond when a human points at something; chimps fail miserably). But when it comes to cats, there’s almost nothing; their minds are like the proverbial black boxes.

There’s a reason for that: basically, they look at researchers and say,”No, I’m not participating in your experiment”. It’s easier to study fish than cats.

“We did one study on cats—and that was enough!” Those words effectively ended my quest to understand the feline mind. I was a few months into writing Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs, which explores how pets are blurring the line between animal and person, and I was gearing up for a chapter on pet intelligence. I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone—anyone—who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world’s top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

There’s another reason as well: generally, cats are solitary hunters, while fish tend to school, and canids trend toward packs. Dogs rely on cooperation and companionship; cats can do without, if it’s all the same. And as far as cuing in on humans – which they do when they feel like it – cats have only been around people for around 10,000 years (roughly 1/3 the time of human/dog association), and for much of that time, they were merely tolerated because they were effective at controlling rodents as agrarian societies evolved.

We simply haven’t invested the time and energy in them as we did with dogs. And while dogs will perform for the simple pleasure of your company, cats tend to be more interested in what sort of food you’ve got. Try getting a lion to lie down or to give you a paw on command. Trust me, you’re gonna need to have some good eats on hand if you want to train those behaviors. Oh, and patience and good timing skills. If you’re missing any of those, forget about it.

You’ll do better as a CPA. Probably live longer, too.

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About maxredlines

experience: biology, zoology, psychology. authored/co-authored papers appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well as numerous professional proceedings. authored articles appearing in computer-oriented publications. featured in publications ranging from books to New Yorker magazine to television.
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