Cats are not instinctively antisocial - it's just you

Cats are not instinctively antisocial - it's just you

Dogs are friendly, while cats are aloof, some people say. But cats don't deserve their reputation for being stand-offish, according to new research.

A study on cat social behaviour by researchers at Oregon State University has found that many pet and shelter cats are keen to interact with humans -- particularly those who pay them attention.

In the first of two experiments, 23 pet cats and 23 shelter cats were placed in a room with a stranger who sat still on the floor, the Washington Post reports. For two minutes, the person mostly ignored the cat; for another two minutes, they could then call the animal by name and pet it freely when it approached.

The second test involved pet cats and their owners doing the same thing.

On average, the cats spent much more time near the human when they were given attention, rather than being ignored, said Kristyn R. Vitale, a postdoctoral scholar in animal behaviour and lead author of the study, published in the journal Behavioral Processes.

Shelter cats spent more time than pet cats interacting with the inattentive person. This may reflect their need for attention or that their living situation conditioned them to unfamiliar people, Vitale explained.

Overall, the research indicates that "domestic cats can detect human attentional state and modify their behaviour in response, demonstrating they are sensitive to human social cues," the study authors concluded. In other words, if you think cats are antisocial, it might just be you.

For cat owners, the bottom line is that it's worth making the first move with your own grumpy kitty.

"In my opinion, it's very important to go out and try to interact with your cat and see what happens," Vitale told the Washington Post. "I think there's this idea that dogs are this way, and cats are that way. But there's a lot of variability in both populations."

By initiating friendly contact, Vitale added, "you may actually be helping them become more social toward you."

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