Or…. Are Cats Manipulative (part 2)?
Yes some cats know how to tweak the natural human desire to nurture. Cats can be manipulative! Manipulative is probably an exaggeration but I am not sure. “Manipulative” has quite a wide ranging meaning. It can mean devious but it also means cunning and wily.
Wild cats hunting are probably cunning. They outdo their prey; attack in groups sometimes (lions and lynx) and maximize the chance of success. So, wild cats could be described as manipulative when it achieves their goal. They manipulate prey into going in a certain direction and then trap it.
We know that the domestic cat is a whisker away from the wild cat ancestor and we know that the domestic cat is a good learner from observation. They copy other cats and, because they live with us, they can copy us too. The cat opening the fridge door or any door is an example. In a video (no longer available sadly) a cat copies boxers on TV throwing punches.
In, typically, single-person households, cats will employ a special purr that has tones that hint at a baby’s cry. This special purr is more “noisy and whiny” than the typical purr and more urgent and less pleasant. It can be irritating and it makes the person pay attention and it triggers the human need to nurture (ref: a study reported in the journal Current Biology 2009). Purrs are normally highly pleasant to a person so a purr that is “demanding” is very strange.
It appears to be a learned sound – a modified purr, modernized and suited to domestic life. As it occurs in single-person households it indicates (to me) that the cat has more vocal interaction with the person and has learned what works. This may have been trial and error but it also calls in question whether the domestic cat is altering its behavior through evolution to maximize his/her life in the human environment.
It could be argued that the cat is employing this “solicitation purr” for one objective: to manipulate the woman (or man, but usually a woman, I am sure) into reacting and to pay attention to the cat’s call, which will often be for food or perhaps to be let outside. The cat is pushing the person’s desire-to-nurture button.
I think, therefore, it is perhaps fair to say that cats can, on occasion be manipulative but – and this is a big but – cat lovers allow themselves to be manipulated a lot of the time. The person is ready and willing to respond.
Is all this good or bad? I think is good really because it shows us that cats are smart and good learners. They are getting more from us that just food and shelter.