A new research study published in the journal Current Biology has come to a conclusion that cat owners have known all along—cats form strong emotional bonds with their humans!
The authors point out that although studies on canine behavior and cognition far outnumber those on feline behavior and cognition, the research that does exist shows that cats form social bonds with humans and other animals–and the bonds they form with their human caregivers are especially strong.
The researchers in this study observed how kittens in the 3-8 month age range behaved with their owners, then during a brief separation, and finally when they were reunited with their owners.
The kittens were first evaluated and divided into two attachment styles: securely attached and insecurely attached. Then a portion were enrolled in socialization training with their owners. The researchers found that their attachment styles were already strongly developed and did not change much after training.
During the separation/reunion component of the study, the kittens showed roughly the same rates of attachment to their people as both dogs and children. Around 66% were securely attached and 34% were insecurely attached. (Dogs are 58%–42% and children are 65%–35%)
How do cats show secure vs. insecure attachment? All the cats showed distress during the separation phase of the experiment (lots of meowing!) but the securely attached cats showed reduced stress when the caregivers returned. The insecurely attached cats remained at higher levels of stress when their humans returned.
Click HERE to watch a video of some of the cats and owners observed by the researchers. You can see how the cats’ reunion behaviors differ based on their attachment styles.