While dogs are said to be loving and loyal, cats are considered withdrawn, cold, and indifferent. It’s a stereotype that probably most cat lovers disagree with, and I myself certainly find it hard to believe that my cat, who is purring on my lap, really doesn’t care about me.
But a new study by researchers in Japan offers a more complex picture of our relationship to cats.
In the “helper” experiment, the stranger helps the cat’s owner open the box, and in the “unhelpful” experiment, the stranger refuses to help, and remains passively sitting doing nothing.
Next, each of the strangers presents the cat with a favorite food, while the scientists watch the cat’s reaction, and its choice of person to approach it first. Would you prefer to eat the food from the helper before the negative person, in a way that indicates a positive bias and that helping the stranger made the cat feel more affectionate with him? Or will it avoid eating from the unhelpful person, indicating a negative bias, meaning that the cat felt mistrust towards the person who did not help its owner?
When this method was used to test dogs’ reaction, it revealed a clear negative bias. In contrast, the cats were completely indifferent. It showed no preference for the cooperating person, nor any avoidance of the uncooperative person. For cats, it seems, food is food, nothing more, nothing less, and it is always desirable.