Do Cats Control Us? New Research Says "Yes"Published July 31, 2009
There is a plethora of cat lovers who may have a serious question about whether the statement, "Cats control us" is true. So it doesn't surprise me to learn that in fact, recently a group of scientists have taken on the fur-raising endeavor to research if this is true. Of course, passionate cat lovers already know the answer and many of us in fact, are quite aware that we have chosen to be willing "servants" to the feline species. After all, the expression, "Dogs have masters; cats have slaves" is one to which any avid cat lover highly subscribes. According to findings published in a recent edition of Live Science, "Household cats exercise this control with a certain type of urgent-sounding, high-pitched meow. Apparently this feline communication meow type sound is produced by a combination of a high-pitched cry and a purr. The report suggests that some cats make this purr-cry sound to plaintively "request" food; that many humans find these mixed calls difficult to ignore as they consider them annoying. In my opinion, this seems to me to be a rather upfront and straightforward means for cats to impart to their purrson that their meal may be "overdue "in their opinion. Karen McComb of the University of Sussex said, "The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response. Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom." It seems that cats really do have our "number" and know just what sound will get the desired effect. Since cats are highly intelligent, they quickly learn the difference between what works and what will fall on "deaf ears" to "play" their human most effectively. Additionally, based on previous research, it was found that there is a similarity in a cat cry and the sound of a human infant cry. McComb postulates that the purr-cry may "subtly take advantage of human's sensitivity to cries they associate with nurturing offspring and including the cry within the purr could make the sound less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to. What I found most fascinating about what inspired McComb's research is that she got the idea for the study based on her own cat's early morning communications . . . you know that one . . . the constant sound of purring in one's ear requesting breakfast be served immediately. After discussing her own experience with other cat owners she learned that most reported the exact kind of behavior. Since her expertise is in communication in mammals, she decided to undertake investigation into the "manipulative" meow. However, it was difficult to set up the experiments since cats easily communicate these sounds to their owners, but resist doing it with strangers. McComb trained cat owners to record their pet's cries, both when asking for food, and at other times. 10 cats were recorded during this experiment. When the recording were played for 50 human participants, some of whom were not familiar with cats, the results were quite interesting. All of the participants surmised that the combination purr and cry were food related sounds while the random meows were less urgent or harmonious to the ears. And when the recordings were re-synthesized, removing the combination purr-meow, "the human subjects' urgency ratings for those calls decreased significantly". McComb continued adding, "We think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans." and that their cry is present at low levels in normal purring. She also thinks that "it seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners rather than those living in large households, where purrs might be overlooked." The results of the experiment was published in the July 14 edition of the journal "Current Biology" I think I am going to pay more attention to our cat's vocalizations to find if they agree with McComb's research. Do you think that cats do really control us? Leave a comment and let us know.