Friday, July 15, 2016

Cats: Unifiers Of The World

Maybe after my nap.....
Yeah, yeah,  I know.  All you dog lovers out there are thinking that dogs, not cats, are humanity's best friend.  But I didn't say anything about cats being our slobbering, leg-licking, obsequious friends -- I will make the case that cats are unifiers of the world, which is way different.  This will require some of my usual twisted logic, so be patient as you hear me out.

Anything I can do for you??
The first fun fact is that according to several surveys, there are many more people who identify as dog lovers than cat lovers. This certainly fits my informal observations that dog lovers seem to be a dime a dozen. For example, in one large-scale study by Gosling et. al. (2010) people were asked if they were a "dog person," a "cat person," "both," or "neither."  An important strength of this study is that it surveyed a wide range of people who weren't necessarily pet-owners to begin with, and therefore they were representative of a broader and more neutral population.  Forty-six percent of the respondents self-identified as a dog person, whereas only 12% identified as a cat person.  Twenty-eight percent said their were both a cat and a dog person, and 15% chose neither. 

Another interesting poll reported by Stanley Coren in Psychology Today focused on the intensity of people's feeling toward dogs and cats.  The results showed that 74% of the respondents said they liked dogs "a lot," whereas only 41% said the same of cats. You'll note that the two percentages add to more than 100, meaning that there are some people who a strong liking for both animals, but not many.  Dogs and cats also stimulate negative feelings to different degrees.  The same survey asked the respondents whether they disliked each type of animal "a lot."  Only 2% said they disliked dogs, but 15% said that of cats. My guess is that cats really don't care. Dogs on the other hand have that genetically programmed plaintive look designed to soften up even the 2% who reject them -- you know, head down on paws, big sad eyes looking up expectantly, often with an audible sigh....

The differences in preferences and feelings toward dogs and cats are undoubtedly tied to the ways each species behaves toward humans, with those behaviors rooted in the nature of the animal and how they each were domesticated.  According to Stanley Coren:

"In the wild, cats are usually solitary hunters and often are active mostly at night. In contrast, wild canines are usually sociable pack animals that work in groups and are active between dawn and dusk. Our domestic dogs retain this need for social interaction to the degree that without a master and a family, a dog seems unhappy--almost lost. Dogs will intrude on a person's ongoing activities if they are feeling lonely and want some company or play. Cats, on the other hand, are often invisible during the day, seeming only to appear in the evening, especially if that is when they are fed. Cats will occasionally engage in social activities or play with people, but their interest is limited." (Coren, 2010)
Because of the innate social nature of dogs they have been more intensely domesticated than cats, and the traits we find attractive have been intentionally encouraged.  The independent and solitary nature of cats, however, led to a different quality of domestication. As the BBC's Henry Nichols recently put it,

"We might expect that the process of domestication would root out that spirited independence. But cats were not domesticated in the same way as other animals, with humans carefully choosing which ones to breed from and which traits to encourage. Instead, cats were probably responsible for their own domestication. (Nicholls, 2015)
When cats first encountered human settlements, their wariness and instinct for self-preservation served them well. Sensing opportunity, they were drawn into an urban niche by an abundance of easy prey and an absence of big predators. As quoted by Nicholls, geneticist Carlos Driscoll at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that "All these animals had to do was become behaviorally adept at living with people" But importantly, "there was no selection against them hunting, or against them finding their own mates, or against them finding places to build their own nests in a rubbish heap."

The dramatically different behaviors of dogs and cats toward humans may make them attractive to different kinds of people, an idea that has been verified scientifically. The large scale study by Gosling et al, (2010) described earlier included a widely used and highly regarded measure of the major dimensions of personality, and the differences between the respondents identifying as dog versus cat people were assessed.  I should note before telling you the results that a danger in presenting personality differences between groups of people on measures like these is that the differences are often over-generalized -- it is incorrectly assumed that everyone in Group A is higher or lower on dimension X than those in Group B.  Not true. It's better to think of the differences in terms of trends, or tendencies.

Gosling et al. found that dog lovers were higher than cat lovers on the personality dimensions of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.  Cat Lovers, on the other hand, were higher than Dog Lovers on the dimensions of Openness and Neuroticism.  Similar patterns have been found by Coren, (2010), who notes that the Openness dimension "involves a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People high on openness are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs while people with low scores on openness (dog people) tend to have more conventional, traditional interests."  This, along with cat people's higher neuroticism, suggests quirkiness and aloofness, both of which fit nicely with my thesis in the following admittedly convoluted way:  It's harder to tell on the surface a person is a cat lover, and so when you do find out they like cats you are likely to be surprised -- and pleased, if you are a fellow cat fancier. This common bond may transcend (or at least weaken) the existing social barriers between you, thus contributing to the unification of the world. Peace, harmony and utopian happiness are sure to follow.  (Ouch, I think I sprained my brain on that last one.)

My final piece of evidence is the surprising range of people who are cat people, covering a wide spectrum of political, religious, and cultural orientations. Consider these examples from a list of 45 Famous Cat Lovers compiled by Rachael Mulliss:  Mohammed...Cardinal Richelieu...Kim Kardashian...Sir Winston Churchill...Abraham Lincoln...Mark Twain...and Ricky Gervais. If there is any common ground among these folks then maybe there is still hope for the world...

I rest my case. 
Sources & Resources:

Gosling, S. D., Sandy, C. J., & Potter, J. (2010). Personalities of self-identified “dog people” and “cat people.” Anthrozoƶs, 23, 213-222.

Stanley Coren, 2010:  Psychology Today.  Personality Differences Between Dog and Cat Owners. 

Henry Nicholls, BBC.Com, 2015:  Cats are Utterly, Irredeemably Selfish:  True or False?

45 Famous Cat Lovers:  Rachael Mulliss. 


Dennis Nord said...

I like cats, but I have a general allergy reaction to them and even higher reaction to Siamese, so I lean towards dogs that usually don't incite my respiratory system to riot. Currently we have a day-time dog that comes about 7:30 in the morning and goes away between 3 to 6 PM a good schedule for all. The cat in our life slinks about outside, seldom seen by anyone and never approaches our house (he also belongs to my neighbors, my daughter & family). I am happy w/ the arrangement tho I may be developing an allergy to the dog... Could it be selective psychosomatic reaction developing?

Lawrence Sherman said...

I live in a small neighborhood of 'patio' homes where access to a community trail passes by my home. First of all I want you to know I do have a mutt whose name is "R-Mutt Mali" and I do take care of her as she takes care of me. She is fead, groomed, walked by me on a regular basis. There is a steady parade of folks, including me, with their mutts heading for the trail at all hours of the day. The mutts lead their humans toward a 50 gallon mutt-waste can. The mutts drop a load along the way, usually in my yard, and the humans pick these loads up (most of them do!) and drop the deposits in the waste can. Next to the waste can is a 'small plastic bag' dispenser provided by the city of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Most everyone takes a few plastic bags in preparation for picking up the next load. While I am not sure who is well trained, or doing the training, mutts and their human's seem well trained in this shitty activity. By city ordinance all mutts should be tethered on a leash. I'm sure there is an economy of scale going on here: mutt food, grooming, leashes, waste bags, taxes, dog licenses, etc.

I have rarely seen any domestic cats in this picture of suburban tranquility. I am having great difficulty even remembering finding any exposed cat waste. When I had little children and a sandbox back in Oxford, Ohio, once in a while a cat turd appeared buried in the sand, but even that was quite rare. But, many of my fine feathered friends were know to have found their demise in some cat predator's stomach. Research on birds and their cat predators suggests birds are losing the battle. While the birds are not officially domesticated, bird feeders do seem to be a way of baiting them to sites increasingly visited by the cat predators.

It's quite rare to see a human leading a cat (or vise-a-versa) on a leash. Whereas its quite rare to see a mutt rooming un-leashed except in certain rural environments. I'm not quite sure where these thoughts are going regarding domestic pets, but perhaps dogs and cats are like comparing apples and oranges? Nevertheless, some folks might actually think they are gaining some kind of social status by having certain breads of dogs and cats. So, if there is social status associated with your pet, you just might have to display it by parading them through the neighborhood? People begin to know their neighbors by the dog bread. Not sure where we go from here, but cats don't seem to bring up the same thoughts. Have a good weekend, walk your mutt, and cheers from the foothills of the Rockies.

Richard Sherman said...

Great comments! I had forgotten that the poop walk is one of the prices we pay for dogs' obedience and companionship. Of course, cats are likely to drop their loads in sandboxes, flower beds, and vegetable gardens, which has its own costs, like toxoplasmosis. But at least they do it all on their own......

Coleen Hanna said...

I have approach/avoidance problems toward both types of animals. I have never owned a pet. I enjoy babysitting my friend's cat, Princess. Princess is very aloof most of the time, but I feel there is some sort of connection between us. The last time I watched Princess, I told her owner that she had been a "brat." A few days later, her owner came over with a selection of cookies from the local bakery and a card with an apology. I, of course, accepted the apology and look forward to my next opportunity to babysit.