A study conducted in Japan confirms what we might consider to be a common sense argument namely that in those human-to-cat relationships where there is a strong bond the human attributes emotions to their companion animal. They believe that their cat has a wide range of emotions. In doing this I would argue that they also believe that their cat companion has an equal status to themselves. This leads to greatly improved animal welfare. Conversely, it could be argued, that when people relate to animals as non-sentient beings or creatures without emotions that are far more likely to mistreat them, hunt them for pleasure, declaw them and lower their levels of animal welfare enormously.
There is a counterargument. It is this: when people attribute advanced emotions to their companion animal (i.e. believe their animals have advanced emotions) they may be anthropomorphizing their animal companion. They may be reflecting their own emotions onto their animal companion. This issue was not discussed in the study to which I am referring entitled “How Japanese companion dog and cat owners’ degree of attachment relates to the attribution of emotions to their animals” published on the Plos One website.
Also, you can see that the study refers to Japanese attitudes and culture, which is different to that in the West. The study concluded that companion animal owners attribute a wide range of emotions to their animals. They referred to 2 types of emotions: primary and secondary. Primary emotions are: anger, joy, sadness, disgust, fear and surprise while secondary emotions are: shame, jealousy, disappointment and compassion.
Some of these emotions are quite complex and I for one am surprised to see that many Japanese cat owners believe that their cat can show compassion and jealousy. It may not surprise other people however. In fact the attribution of compassion and jealousy was reported at a high level of 73.1% and 56.2% respectively. Unsurprisingly, all the participants in the study were very attached to their companion animals. The attachment was positively associated with the attribution of emotions to their cat or dog.
The researchers discovered that more than half the respondents reported that they could often or sometimes recognize primary emotions of joy (96.2%), surprise (85.9%), anger (80.6%), fear (75.7%), sadness (61.9%) and jealousy (56.2%) in their companion animals. Apparently, joy and sadness were more often recognized in dogs than in cats. Women were more likely to attribute the emotions of anger, joy, disgust, fear, surprise, jealousy and disappointment in their pet. Women attributed more emotions to their companion animal than men and females showed a high level of attachment. People living with dogs showed a higher level of attachment than people living with cats.
Notwithstanding that there is a cultural difference between the Japanese and say Americans, the study, understandably, I would argue supports the conclusion that when a pet owner attributes or assigns emotions to their companion animal they far more likely to have a close bond with that animal and as a consequence of far more likely to set higher standards of animal welfare.