Animal mind is a fascinating topic, and I’ll be starting a five-part series on it at Evolution News & Views later this month.
Meanwhile, from the world of grumpy cat vids, we learn:
A study carried out between the University of Edinburgh and Bronx Zoo compared our beloved domestic cat with its wilder relatives.
Compared with the snow leopard, the Scottish wildcat and the African lion, researchers found these larger predators shared similar characteristics of aggression and neurotic behaviour to domestic cats.
They needed to do a study to find that out?
Dominance, impulsiveness and neurotic behaviour are the most common trait shared between the domestic cat and the wild cat.
Well, a problem arises when we characterize cats’ traits as if they were human traits (the Big Five personality test was used). Given the mental differences, apparent similarities may deceive.
Here are some thoughts from a person who has observed cats closely for many years in non-academic settings:
Cats, like dogs and horses, struggle for dominance, but they are not pack or herd animals. So the conflicts are not around the right to command but, say, the best view from the window. The winner doesn’t care what the loser does afterward; he isn’t trying to herd him or anything.
Cats’ impulsiveness? The cat does not typically foresee a train of logically entailed events in a situation he has not encountered before. For example, he climbs much higher than he feels safe coming down. Yes, he learns the hard way not to do that again—without necessarily abstracting a general principle. Assuming he survives, after a couple of years he just runs out of unwise things to do in his own environment.
Neurotic? Cats tend to be neurotic when they do not understand how to control their inner or outer circumstances, and thus feel helpless. Because they are not very good at introspection or abstraction, that happens to them a lot. I haven’t met many cats who were neurotic about catching small rodents and reptiles. They are well adapted to rodent hunting, so there is nothing to be neurotic about.
The researchers also think that a cat is probably trying to work out how to kill the human he lives with. That seems less plausible than a thesis I am more familiar with, that if a kitten is separated from its mother at six weeks, and often handled, he tends to regard that human as “mommy.” He never really grows up, because he never needs to. He isn’t “obedient,” of course (that’s not part of the deal), but he probably has no bad feelings about the person who feeds him, cleans the litter box, and turns on the space heater.
Added: He may, however, turn on another resident cat, whom he perceives to be getting more attention (analogous to sibling rivalry?) Hence, “jealous as a cat,” etc.
Anyway, we shall see. See also: Matching Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” the “Tree of Intelligence” comes crashing down”
None of my cats have ever tried to kill me. I reckon they just hate researchers.
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