What does your cat think of you? Maybe not too much. A new study suggests that cats don't need their owners to feel secure and safe -- the way dogs do -- but rely on them mostly as a reliable source of food.
"Animal-human relationships may be built on different priorities--for dogs clearly safety and security are important, but this is not the case in cats," Dr. Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln in England and lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It seems cats are much more resource focused... I’m sure you know someone whose cat moved in with their neighbor who started to feed it (rather than offered it shelter and protection)."
The study was patterned on a classic psychology experiment known as "strange situation," so named because in the experiment -- developed by American-Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999) -- a baby or child is left in a room to play by the mother or caregiver while a stranger then walks in. The experiment is modeled to help scientists gauge how attached children are to their mothers.
Similarly, the researchers placed 20 pet cats in an unfamiliar room and then observed how they responded when they were left alone in the room with a stranger, their owner, or simply by themselves. The researchers selected cats whose owners said were particularly attached to them, Live Science reported.
What did the researchers find? The cats vocalized slightly more meows when their owners left them in the room with a stranger, but the researchers didn't notice any additional evidence to suggest that the cats were strongly attached to their owners.
"This vocalization might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen," Mills said in a written statement. "In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren’t apparent during our research."
The study was published online in the journal Plos One on September 2, 2015.
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