This is a study about the variation in the bond between domestic cats and their human caregiver. That’s my interpretation. And it has to be interpreted because out of convention scientists who conduct studies about animals, including cats, use impenetrable language. I’m not joking!
Fortunately, I’m used to reading the studies so I think I can understand them. In this instance the scientists incorporated a test called a Secure Base Test which is used to evaluate what they call “attachment security” in dogs and primates. I interpret ‘attachment security’ as meaning the strength of the emotional attachment between cat and human.
They employed kittens in the age bracket 3-8 months. They were trying to find out how securely attached the kittens were to the people that they had been with. The kittens spent two minutes in a room with their caregiver. Then they spent two minutes alone and in a third phase they then spent two minutes reunited with their caregiver.
They found that 70 kittens could be classified into what they refer to as an “attachment style”. As mentioned, I interpret this is to mean the depth of attachment that they had to the caregiver that they had met in the first phase of the test.
They found that 64.2% of the kittens could be classified as securely attached and the remaining 35.7% were classified as insecurely attached. In other words, two thirds of the kittens had established a reasonable attachment to their caregiver while the remainder had not. Of the 35.7% who had insecure attachments they categorised these into three groups: 84% were ambivalent, 12% avoidance and 4% disorganised.
In other words, most of the kittens who were insecurely attached i.e. 84% of them, were drifting between a secure attachment and an insecure attachment (ambivalence). 12% demonstrated avoidance behaviour and therefore there appears to be an almost no attachment and the remaining 4% were apparently confused because they were disorganised.
The scientists also did a follow-up test to see whether they could improve the number of kittens that formed a secure attachment. They put the kittens through training and socialisation. They found that it made no difference to the percentage of kittens who formed secure attachments. This indicates, as perhaps we know, that a cat’s behaviour is pretty well formed within the first seven weeks of life. Also, the element of behaviour dictated to by genetic inheritance cannot be changed.
They said that the information gleaned from this study supports the idea that cats have a similar capacity to form secure and insecure attachments towards human caregivers as children.
Comment: to me, the study seems to be saying that about two thirds of domestic kittens will have personalities which allow them to bond closely with their human caregivers whereas about one third will not quite have that same capacity and may be more distant. I wonder if this conclusion is born out in the real world. It may account for the fact that some domestic cats are more ‘independent’ or ‘aloof’ compared to those that are ‘loyal’ and who follow their human caregiver around.
I wonder, too, whether this difference is largely to do with inherited behaviour i.e. is in the genes rather than behaviour learn through experience. Which kind of cat do you live with!? Please comment.
There must be an overlap here with cat personality types – click to read about this.
Study title: Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Published on the Current Biology website.
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