Cats may be too socially clueless to understand when someone is not being niceto their owners.

In the cat world, there’s a saying that you should keep your humans’ friendsclose and your humans’ enemies … just as close. That’s the takeaway of a newstudy that shows that cats, unlike dogs, will gladly accept food from peoplewho are not nice to their owners.

While dog lovers may rejoice at the chance for another study suggesting dogsare more loyal than cats, the conclusion is not that simple. It might not bethat cats are disloyal; rather, they may be too socially clueless tounderstand when someone is not being nice to their owners, according to thenew study, which was published in the February issue of the journal AnimalBehavior and Cognition.

For the study, a group of researchers from Kyoto University in Japan testedthe loyalty of domestic cats by adapting a technique previously used on dogs.The experiment involved a container, 36 domestic cats (13 were house cats and23 lived in cat cafés) and their owners.

The researchers set up two groups: the “helpers” and the “non-helpers.” Thecats watched as their owners tried in vain to open a container and take out anobject. In the helper group, a second person, an actor, helped the owner openthe container — in other words, they acted as a friend to the owner. In thenon-helper group, the actor refused to help and turned away — making them afoe. To act as a point of comparison, a third person just sat there throughoutboth conditions, neither helping nor refusing to help.

After the skit, the actor and the neutral person from each trial offered thecat a piece of food, and the experimenters recorded which person the cat tookthe food from. After four trials, the conclusion was clear: The cats did notcare who they took the food from. Previously, the research team showed thatdogs undergoing the same experiment avoided people who refused to help theirowners.

So does this mean dogs are loyal and cats are selfish?

Not quite. “It is conceivable that the cats in this study did not understandthe meaning or goal of the owners’ behavior,” the authors wrote. No studieshave investigated if cats can recognize others’ goals or intentions from theiractions, they wrote. “But even if they did understand the owner’s goal orintention, they might have failed to detect the negative intention of the non-helpful actor.”

In other words, they may not have realized the other person was not helpingtheir owner open the container.

“We consider that cats might not possess the same social evaluation abilitiesas dogs, at least in this situation, because unlike the latter, they have notbeen selected to cooperate with humans,” the authors wrote in the study.(Throughout the years, dogs were breeded, or artificially “selected” for morecooperative traits.)

Calling cats selfish based on this study would be an “anthropomorphic bias,”Ali Boyle, a research fellow in the Kinds of Intelligence project at theUniversity of Cambridge, wrote in The Conversation. They’re not “furrylittle humans,” but “creatures with their own distinctive ways of thinking,”wrote Boyle, who was not involved in the new study.

It’s more likely that cats don’t understand our social relationships as muchas dogs do, because dogs were domesticated much earlier, she wrote. What’smore, the ancestors of dogs lived in social packs, whereas cats were solitaryhunters, which could mean dogs already had existing social skills that werehyperdeveloped when they were domesticated.

It’s also not clear if these findings extend to all house cats. “About twothirds of our subjects were from cat cafés, which makes us cautious aboutgeneralizing the results of this study to all domestic cats,” the researcherswrote in the study. Though the house cats and the café cats didn’t showdifferences in behavior, they could have a different bond to their owners.Café cats, for example, may spend more time socializing with strangers and mayhave less individual interactions with their owners than house cats would,they wrote.

Source: ByYasemin Saplakoglu Live Science

Image: Bigstock

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