I was recently interviewed by Science about a fascinating new study published this month in the journal Animal Cognition. The study demonstrated that a pet cat was capable of reproducing the actions of their human owner. The cat was trained using the Do as I Do (DAID) training method to repeat behaviors that their owner demonstrated. During the training, the cat learns that if the owner does an action and then says “Do it!” the cat should copy the behavior the owner displayed. So if the owner spins and says “Do it!” the cat should spin as well.
After the DAID training was complete, the cat underwent trials to see if they could mimic their owner’s behaviors toward a box. The owner either touched the box with her hand or rubbed the box with her face. Interestingly, the cat matched the behavior of the owner on 13 out of 16 trials (81%). This provides support that cats have the capacity to mentally represent the body parts and movements of their owner, relate those to their own body, and copy the behavior that was demonstrated. A video of the study’s methods can be viewed here!
Only 1 pet cat was included in this study and this cat already had considerable training experience with their owner. Future research can build off this study to further clarify if the cat’s life experiences, such as socialization to humans, may impact their ability to mimic human behavior. Until then, you can observe your own cat and try to decipher if they watch and copy you.
Kristyn Vitale, PhD
Did we find a copycat? Do as I Do in a domestic cat. Fugazza, C., Sommese, A., Miklósi, A. (2020). Animal Cognition. Read the full study here!
Kitty see, kitty do: cat imitates human, in first scientific demonstration of behavior. Grimm, D. (Sep. 25, 2020). Science. Link to full article here!
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Kristyn Vitale, PhD of Maueyes Cat Science & Training
Tabitha Kucera, Elite Fear Free and Low Stress Handling Certified RVT, CCBC, KPA-CTP of Chirrups & Chatter Behavior Solutions
Our research on cat-human attachment bonds was recently published in Current Biology. We found that cats display distinct attachment styles toward their owners. These styles are the same styles that human infants and dogs display toward their caregivers. As seen in this video, secure cats use their owner as a source of security and comfort and are able to freely explore the room while the owner is present. Insecure cats do not use their owner as a secure base and instead either cling to their owner’s side or avoid the owner. Similar to findings with infants and dogs, the majority of kittens and cats (~65%) were securely attached to their caregiver. Half the kittens also participated in a 6-week training and socialization class, but cat attachment styles did not significantly change after the class. This indicates cat-human attachment may be relatively stable once established.
Vitale, K. R., Behnke, A. C., & Udell, M. A. R. (2019). Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Current Biology, 29(18), R864–R865. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.036