Articles

I test my cat’s love


If you ask a non-cat person why they don’t
like cats, they’ll most likely say that either they’re
allergic or that cats are too… indifferent. I mean, do they even want to be your pet? I grew up with dogs and so didn’t have a
great deal of exposure to cats, but… they always seemed to scurry out of the room
whenever I walked into a friend’s house and they just didn’t seek out the attention
like you might see with a dog. So unsurprisingly, many people give cats the
reputation for being… kind of distant and cold. And I’m not gonna lie, so did I. That is, until I got Bill and Loki. These two just completely demolished what
I thought about cats. They’re social, affectionate, loyal… And they always want attention. And they show it in not-very-subtle ways. They’re about the closest thing that I have
to a kid, which got me wondering: Can cats really love you? Well, I wanna test that. First we need to answer the age-old question: What is love?
(echos of “love”) What is love?
(echos of “love”) Huh. What is-
(echos of “love”) Ahhhhh Love comes in various shapes and sizes and
there’s a big difference between loving your partner, loving your parents,
and loving the Princess Bride. Inconceivable! So can cats feel love? Of course, there’s plenty of defenders online
who say, OF COURSE CATS FEEL LOVE CATS ARE THE BEST. MY CAT LOVES ME MORE THAN MY OWN CHILDREN! But cats probably don’t have the same conscious
capacity to love like humans. And let’s not even talk about cats vs dogs
in terms of who can love you more, I mean Obviously… HOW DARE YOU! – CATS AND DOGS ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT!
– CATS CHOSE TO DOMESTICATE THEMSELVES. Why are we even talking about this? When you look up the definition of love, you
get just a ton of results. For example, “The object of admiration.” Now, I’m not really sure that Bill and Loki
have the capacity to see me as an object, so that’s not quite right. How about, “A sexual passion or desire”? No, that’s not it. How about A zero score in tennis… Oh, this one sounds more right. Alright, “a strong affection for another or
a warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” So now we’re headed in the right direction. That sounds about right in terms of how I
think my cats might feel about me. The relationship between a cat and their owner
is probably most similar to a baby’s love for their parent. And in psychology, if we’re talking about
love, babies, and parents, we’re almost certainly talking about attachment. Attachment is the deep emotional bond between
a baby and their caregiver. And it has undoubtedly influenced your development. And may even affect you now. See, after you’re born, you start to connect
with the person who provides most of your comfort,
affection, and food. Now, some folks believe that we started doing
this because it’s an evolutionary advantage. Babies are pretty useless, so in prehistoric
times, forming a strong bond with a caregiver meant they’d be provided for and they’d
be more likely to survive than babies who don’t. But of course, not all parents are good at
parenting. So if the caregiver is abusive or aloof or
somehow shakes the trust in that relationship, well, then the baby will adjust and learn
maladaptive behaviors that help them get their needs met. So, depending on how well your caregiver provides
physical or emotional support as a baby, that will change how you attach to your caregiver
and how you view the world around you. And this is what we call your “attachment
style”. In the 1970s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth
noticed these differences and realized that not all attachments are created equal. So she wondered, why is it that some children
grow up and feel safe to explore the world while others seem afraid to venture far from their parents and they act irrationally to stressful situations? Well, to study this, Ainsworth developed an
iconic experiment called the Strange Situation Procedure. And I swear we’re gonna get back to cats. I just need to talk about this first for it
all to make sense about what I’m doing. The Strange Situation is pretty simple. First, a baby and caregiver walk into an unfamiliar
room. In this case, a playroom set up by the experimenters
that has lots of toys. After a minute of just those two in the room,
a stranger walks in and sits down. A few minutes later, the stranger tries to
interact with the child. Shortly after, the caregiver leaves the room, leaving just the child and stranger in the room together. After about three minutes, the caregiver comes
back. After that, the stranger leaves the room and
gives the caregiver and child a few more minutes of play time. After that, the caregiver exits once more,
leaving the child in the room by themselves. A few minutes later, the stranger enters the
room and tries to interact with the child. Finally, the caregiver returns and picks up
the child. So simple, and yet you can immediately notice
differences in how infants react based on their attachment to
their parent. This procedure helped identify four distinct
attachment styles: Secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent,
and disorganized attachment. In Ainsworth’s study, she found that securely
attached children will freely explore the environment as long as the caregiver is present. And they’ll sort of use the caregiver as like
a “home base” to return to for comfort. They will interact with the stranger when
the caregiver is there, are visibly upset when the caregiver leaves. However, they’re able to be comforted and
seem happy when the caregiver returns. About 70% of all children have a secure attachment. In anxious-avoidant attachment, the child
will avoid or ignore the caregiver. They seem to emotionally retreat when the
caregiver leaves or returns. And they don’t really explore their environment
either. Likewise, the stranger has little impact on
their behavior, regardless of where the caregiver is. When the caregiver tries to pick them up at
the end, they seem distant and may even move away. In anxious-ambivalent, or also called anxious-resistant
attachment, the child becomes distressed and clingy when
the stranger enters, even before the caregiver leaves. And then when the caregiver does exit the
room, they become really upset. And when the parent returns, the child will
approach the parent, and then they’ll reject any sort of comfort
that the parent tries to offer. Additionally, children with this attachment
style seem resentful or unusually passive when the caregiver comes
back. Finally, the disorganized attachment style
was identified later on in 1990 by Mary Main, who was actually a colleague
of Ainsworth’s. In this style, children show a sort of an
inconsistent reaction to separation by switching between wanting to be close to
the caregiver and avoidance. Likewise, they seem to be dazed or disoriented
after the caregiver comes back. So if I’ve done my job right as a parent,
I can expect my child to have a secure attachment. And if they have a secure attachment, then
that means that they express and receive love in the appropriate
way, they’re able to develop coping skills for
dealing with stressful situations, and grow up to be confident, well-adjusted
people. …hopefully. But what about as a cat parent? Finally we’re getting back to cats! Back to cats! Well, a study published in Current Biology
in August 2019 wanted to know whether cats express that same level of affection
and devotion to their owners. So they conducted a study similar to Ainsworth’s
Strange Situation Procedure and found that..yup! Cats do form attachments. And even better, they express the same distinct
attachment styles that we see in infants. And at similar rates, with about 68% of cats
being securely attached. So I had to wonder… Are Bill and Loki securely attached? Only one way to find out. It was time to put my cats to the test. We adopted Bill and Loki from the Humane Society
when they were both around 6 months old. We don’t know much about what they experienced
before then. All we were told was that Bill came from an
overcrowded home and that Loki was a stray. Both cats are generally social and snuggly,
but Loki is pretty easily startled And Bill is… Well, Bill is needy. But despite the unknown confounding factors
from kittenhood, I think I’ve been able to foster a healthy,
secure bond. So I decided to replicate the same methodology
as the study. They used an abbreviated Strange Situation
Test called the Secure Base Test and it goes like this. Step 1: Owner and cat enter an unfamiliar
room. Step 2: Owner and cat spend two minutes in
the room together with the owner sitting in the middle of the
room. Step 3: Owner exits the room leaving the cat
alone for two minutes. Step 4: Owner re-enters the room and cat and
owner reunite. We’ll be doing our study in this small room
here. Let me give you a wide shot. Neither of the cats have been in this room
and I sort of purposefully picked A small room because, first off, it’ll be
easier to observe their behaviors. But also because it’ll limit the number of
distractions that may get in the way of our results. Now I sort of anticipate that, regardless
of the cat’s attachment style, when I leave the room, they will be visibly distressed. And that might include behaviors like a lot
of yowling or meowing, pacing, salivating, pawing or staying near the door… But, when I come back in the room, if the
cat is securely attached, then they will come up to me for comfort,
and then once they receive it, continue exploring the room around them. If they’re insecurely attached, well then
we might see any number of behaviors including excessively staying near me and seeking out
attention. Avoiding me altogether and staying on the
other side of the room. Or this sort of back-and-forth where they
approach, looking for attention, and then walk away. Like they don’t know what they want. I don’t know what to expect, but enough talk. Let’s go do this. Okay, so as per procedure, I entered the room
with each cat, open the carrier, and sat down in the middle
of the room. I tried to be as consistent as I could with
both cats because… ya know, gotta get those reliable results. And as you can see, Bill and Loki each start
to explore the room. And just sniff around and see what it’s all
about. You can see how they’re sort of using me as
a “home base” and if we were to track their movement, you
can see how they kind of ping pong from me to other parts of the room. Just really interesting stuff. Okay, now it’s time for me to leave. This is by far the worst part. As soon as I go, both cats are immediately
distressed. It was really difficult. I was just outside the door, but was hard staying out there for the whole two minutes
while listening to them yowl inside. Finally, I came back inside after the two
minutes were up. And this is where the real observation starts. So, let’s take a look at each, one by one. So with Loki, I came back into the room and
he seemed immediately relieved. He stopped yowling and, after getting a few
pets, a little bit of affirmation, he has returned to exploring the room and
this is what we like to see. He’s easily comforted, all is right in the
world, and he’s able to cope with the stress he
just experienced, so… good job Loki. Carry on. With Bill, let’s see what happens. He was yelling up a storm when I was gone. I came back in and… he stopped yelling. That’s a good sign. And he comes up for attention, that’s also
good. But now this is interesting. I sat there for quite a while, waiting for
Bill to get comfortable again and start exploring, but… it never happened in the entire two minutes. I even let it go longer just to see what would
happen. And instead, you can see how he sticks near
me. He keeps rubbing against me and won’t go
more than a foot away from me. So even though he has plenty of space, plenty
of things to explore and sniff at, he seems like he’s been spooked and I could
imagine he’s thinking that if he moves too far away from me, I might
leave him again. So, poor Bill. So, there you have it. It appears that Loki is securely attached, and Bill…oh poor Bill. It appears that Bill has an anxious-ambivalent
attachment style, which makes him more clingy than usual. In the original study, they actually took
the cats who had an insecure attachment style and enrolled them in a six-week socialization
and training program to see if the owners could change their cats’ attachment
style. Turns out….not so much. So while humans can change their attachment
style through new experiences and therapy, your cat’s attachment style will stay relatively
stable. You can do this experiment with your cats
if you want to. And I’m pretty sure it works with dogs, too. So let me know down in the comments what your
pet’s attachment style is. It’s amazing how much more emotional these
little guys are than we give them credit for. Anyway, thanks for watching. Until next time, I’m Micah…think about
it.

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