By in Animals

A Ridiculously Unscientific "Experiment" Attempts to Prove Your Cat Doesn't Care About You

About a year ago, a friend of mine posted a link to a ridiculously biased "science experiment" on YouTube , which attempts to show that, unlike dogs and human babies, cats don't seem to feel any attachment for their owners, presumably only sticking around for treats and a safe place to sleep. What nonsense. The video, which had the title "How attached cats are to their owners?" (original poor grammar is copied), was apparently some sort of footage from the 70s or 80s that showed an "experiment" meant to differentiate the level of attachment of cats vs dogs to their owners and babies to their mothers. It already sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? cats and dogs are full-grown adults who can survive on their own. A human baby is not a comparable test subject.

But I digress. I looked for this thing on YouTube, but it seems the only current incarnation is something called "Cats Stupid Dogs SMart", or something, and instead of the original audio, it is overdubbed with someone speaking in a ridiculous voice, obviously trying to make a parody of it. You might watch the video without the sound, but in any case, this was the gist of the "experiment": An owner with a dog or a cat, or a mother with a baby, would enter a room that was mostly empty but for a few chairs.

A stranger would be there or would enter, and the cat's, dog's, or baby's reaction to the stranger would be noted. Then, ostensibly while the test subject was distracted, the caregiver would sneak out of the room and the subject would be left with the stranger. Once again, any distress or efforts to seek out the beloved parent or owner would be noted. When the parent or owner returned, the reaction of the subject was again noted. Seems legit so far, right?

Of course, the dog and the baby both reacted as you might expect, with some trepidation to the stranger and distress at discovering their caregiver had disappeared. Also, they were clearly relieved and happy when the caregiver returned. The cat appeared not to display these same reactions, interacting readily with the stranger and not seeming to be very distressed when the owner was "discovered" to be gone, which seemed to justify the assertion that the cat wasn't as attached. And yet, there were SO MANY reasons why...


The following is copied from the comment I left on the original video under my YouTube username, ActionCat2000:


In the study with the baby, the stranger entered the room later, and was making no attempt to engage the baby when the mother returned. Likewise, the stranger was making no attempt to engage the DOG when the owner returned. But in the one with the cat:

1. Both people were present when the cat was released from the carrier. Anyone who knows cats knows that they ALWAYS explore new environments, and this includes people. The cat wouldn't stay with her owner because the owner is a known quantity, and cats are far more intrepid than either dogs or children.

2. The cat was WELL AWARE that the owner was leaving, despite attempts to "distract" her. You can see in the video that she sees the owner get up and walk to the door.

3. Unlike with the baby and the dog, the stranger was making VERY strong attempts to engage and distract the cat when the owner returned. Whenever the cat looked at her owner, the stranger dangled a toy in her face.


It's clear that the "scientific" experiment was pathetically rigged to make the cat SEEM unattached, but any cat owner with a loving relationship can tell you that's crap (some cat owners are not close with their cats, so obviously results vary). Here's my personal story: Spencer the Cat prefers me to his dad. Even though my husband ADORES the kitty, pets him as often as he can reach him, and is even the one of the two of us who FEEDS the cats every day, Spencer STILL prefers me. If he is on my lap when my husband comes over to kiss me, he fusses. If my husband tries to pick him up, he submits rather unhappily, and he refuses to sit on my husband's lap, even though he is a big lap cat for me.

We have another cat, Naomi, who is more than happy to sit on her dad's lap. Naomi, by the way, hides from strangers, even though she's crazy about both of us. Both cats desire to sleep on the bed with me, and Spencer is almost always around in the room with me, even when he's not actually on me. I have also had cats that just literally followed me around the house so they could be with me, and they didn't do that with anyone else. So yeah, that "study" is biased and just plain wrong. We know what we know.

My picture of Spencer and Naomi, who completely adore me.

Image Credit » My own photo

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scheng1 wrote on March 19, 2015, 9:42 AM

Cats definitely know who loved them, and they return the love in their own ways. When they meet people who have no affection for cats, cats can show their own displeasure too.

GemOfAGirl wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:20 AM

My feline friend used to follow me around the house quite a lot, and was almost always underfoot whenever I was at my desk. Even though he's been gone now for months, I still check to make sure I'm not kicking him accidentally when I'm getting ready to move my feet.

Hollyhocks100 wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:21 AM

What beautiful cats. I once had one who timed her visits to the school my daughter attended so she was there in the playground at break times. She also went into a few morning assemblies and had to be brought home as she caused such a stir. That special cat went everywhere with my daughter when she was little, and all I had to do if she wondered off playing was to whistle the cat and her jingling bell would tell me where my kid was.

LindaCPearson wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:26 AM

That study definitely appears slanted and biased to get the results the people were looking for. I for one know that cats can become very attached to their owners, perhaps not in the same way as dogs. Dogs are blindly devoted whereas cats are more selective. Mildred my cat is very attached to me and very loving and very affectionate and all those good things. Some people just plain don't like cats and refuse to be open to changing their minds.

MegL wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:27 AM

Cats can be very attached to people but they are also independent and don't NEED a pack to survive.

HappyLady wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:32 AM

I do not understand. I am extremely attatched to Human 1. I proved it as a kitten when she went away. I stood guard over her knickers (left untidly on the floor,) and refused to let the lady looking after me have them or use Human 1's bed. I have followed Human 1 all over this village to make sure she does not get lost and I sat on her and prevented her working all day yesterday. Love from Freya, the Catblog Cat.

wolfgirl569 wrote on March 19, 2015, 12:55 PM

They are very pretty. I once had a white cat that was content to be off in her own little world. Until we moved. I left her in the old house with her lifetime companion Ghost as we were hauling things and getting the new house set up. This took about a week. When I brought them home, Prissy my white one, did not leave my side for about a month. She slowly relaxed and went back to being herself, but she let me know that I was not supposed to disappear like that.

alexdg1 wrote on March 19, 2015, 2:50 PM

Cats definitely have emotional ties to their humans. We had a chinchilla Persian named Natasha; Mom fed her, took her to the vet, groomed her, etc., but I was Natasha's human. I was the only one she liked to play hide and seek with, and I was the only one who could pick her up and carry her. When I went to Spain for three months in 1988, she did not eat for three days.

Brillian wrote on March 19, 2015, 10:06 PM

There is a video in you tube that displays a cat signaling for food and he only does that to his owner. So it really differs. I have a cat and yes, it seems cold and distant but years ago I have pet cat that was almost like a dog.

BarbRad wrote on March 20, 2015, 7:40 PM

My own experience as a cat sister to my mom's cat, is that cats will sometimes punish their "mom" for leaving by ignoring her when she returns -- until the cat is sure "mom' feels sufficiently punished. As the caregiver when mom was away for a couple of weeks, my "sister" treated me as lovingly as she did Mom when Mom was there. When Mom returned home, the cat ignored her for a few hours and sat in my lap. But then when she returned to Mom's lap, I no longer existed. She was on Mom's bed with her when Mom died, and so she knew Mom wasn't coming back. She clung to me when I came over to spend time with her, but after she moved to my brother's house, she ran away from me on my yearly visits as if I were a stranger. She had turned her affections to my brother's family by then. I no longer existed in her world.

JohnRoberts wrote on March 21, 2015, 2:46 PM

Propaganda from cat haters and dog lovers who dislike cats. You can't confuse the independent nature of cats with lack of affection. Just because they don't slobber all over you when you hit the door doesn't mean a cat doesn't love you.