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Science uncovers how cats manipulate us

December 14, 2012

By Traci Scott,
Portland writer,

New studies reveal how cats cleverly manipulate us to get what they want and keep us in the palms of their little paws. Those of us with cats have long suspected that our feline friends have found a way to manipulate us, and apparently now there is scientific proof to back us up. Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that cats have learned to garner attention and get their owner to feed them by combining a soothing sounding purr with a more urgent crying meow that sounds similar to that of a crying human baby. The newly identified vocalization has been termed “solicitation purring”.

From an evolutionary and biological standpoint, humans are wired to respond to a crying baby, so the cat’s “solicitation purr” is hard for us to ignore.

Dr Karen McComb, the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Current Biology, said the research was inspired by her own cat, Pepo. “He would wake me up in the morning with this insistent purr that was really rather annoying,” Dr McComb told BBC News.

According to Discovery.com, McComb and her colleagues examined the acoustic structure of recorded cat purrs. The team determined that all purrs are not equal. One contained an embedded, high-frequency cry, forming the solicitation purr. Nearly all listeners, whether or not they owned a cat themselves, identified the solicitation purring sounds as being more urgent than the other purring sounds.

“The key thing [that made the purrs more unpleasant and difficult to ignore] was the relative level of this embedded high-frequency sound,” McComb told BBC News.

According to McComb, the cry occurs at a low level in cats’ normal purring, but they learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in soliciting a response from people. The trait is most prevalent in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners.

Meow manipulation isn’t the only technique cats use to coerce us. Some cats will use their paws or other body gestures to express what they want, but since people usually aren’t adept at understanding body language, most cats have learned to communicate vocally rather than with gestures, according to veterinarian Sophia Yin, a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior in an interview with MSNBC.

A study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. claims that many years ago cats purposely and cleverly domesticated themselves so they could sway people into giving them food and shelter, shrewdly making their way into our lives.
“Cats do not perform directed tasks and their actual utility is debatable, even as mousers,” wrote the study authors according to MSNBC. “Accordingly, there is little reason to believe an early agricultural community would have actively sought out and selected the wildcat as a house pet.”

Apparently, that was only the beginning. Once we allowed them into our homes, cats began to cast us further under their spell through their endearing yet annoying solicitation purr.

What’s next? Hypnosis by purr? Purr Voodoo? How about Purr Telepathy? Impawsible you say?

Then explain

Why do cats seem to sense the onset of earthquakes and other natural disasters before they occur?

Why do cats look us straight in the eye as if they are trying to read our minds?

Why do cats play on our fears when we are alone at night by staring at a wall or door or window as if anticipating an intruder at any moment?

And finally, how are cats able to get us out of bed at 4:00 am, against our will and in a trance-like state, to feed them or let them out the door or to bid any of their other feline fancies?

Science has proven that those animals that are able to use signals to manipulate and outsmart other animals have an advantage from an evolutionary perspective. And since cats are the master manipulators, the pawsibilities are endless.

  
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