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Author Topic: Cats can control humans  (Read 2933 times)

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Offline SerephinoTopic starter

Cats can control humans
« on: May 12, 2010, 02:44:52 PM »
Quote
If you've ever wondered who's in control, you or your cat, a new study points to the obvious. It's your cat.

Household cats exercise this control with a certain type of urgent-sounding, high-pitched meow, according to the findings.

This meow is actually a purr mixed with a high-pitched cry. While people usually think of cat purring as a sign of happiness, somecats make this purr-cry sound when they want to be fed.

The study showed that humans find these mixed calls annoying and difficult to ignore.

"The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response," said Karen McComb of the University of Sussex in southern England. "Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom."

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Previous research has shown similarities between cat cries and human infant cries.

McComb suggests that the purr-cry may subtly take advantage of humans' sensitivity to cries they associate with nurturing offspring. Also, including the cry within the purr could make the sound "less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to," she said.

McComb got the idea for the study from her experience with her own cat, who would consistently wake her up in the mornings with a very insistent purr.

After speaking with other cat owners, she learned that some of their cats also made the same type of call.

As a scientist who studies vocal communication in mammals, she decided to investigate the manipulative meow.

Tough to test

Setting up the experiments wasn't easy. While the felines used purr-cries around their familiar owners, they were not eager to make the same cries in front of strangers.

So McComb and her team trained cat owners to record their pets' cries — capturing the sounds made by cats when they were seeking food and when they were not.

In all, the team collected recordings from 10 different cats.

The researchers then played the cries back for 50 human participants, not all of whom owned cats.

They found that humans, even if they had never had a cat themselves, judged the purrs recorded while cats were actively seeking food — the purrs with an embedded, high-pitched cry — as more urgent and less pleasant than those made in other contexts.

When the team re-synthesised the recorded purrs to remove the embedded cry, leaving all else unchanged, the human subjects' urgency ratings for those calls decreased significantly.

McComb said she thinks this cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring, "but we think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans."

In fact, not all cats use this form of purring at all, she said, noting that it seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners rather than those living in large households, where their purrs might be overlooked.

The results were published in the July 14 issue of the journal Current Biology.

Copyright © 2009 Imaginova Corp.

As a cat owner, my reaction to this is.... well... duh....

Offline Ket

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2010, 03:28:25 PM »
They had to waste research money on that?  All they had to do was ask a cat owner.

I find this part interesting. I didn't know there had been actually research on it.

Quote
Previous research has shown similarities between cat cries and human infant cries.

Anyone who's ever heard a mountain lion cry knows that it sounds exactly like a human baby in need.

Offline Wolfy

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2010, 03:29:35 PM »
They had to waste research money on that?  All they had to do was ask a cat owner.

I find this part interesting. I didn't know there had been actually research on it.

Anyone who's ever heard a mountain lion cry knows that it sounds exactly like a human baby in need.

O_o...Are you being serious Ket, or are you joking?

Cause I can't tell.

Offline Ket

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2010, 03:37:50 PM »
Have you ever heard a mountain lion cry?  It's shudder worthy.

Offline Wolfy

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2010, 03:39:40 PM »
Have you ever heard a mountain lion cry?  It's shudder worthy.

A Baby's cry is too..for me. >_> So..yeah. o3o

Offline Trouble

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2010, 03:40:51 PM »
In my house, there's absolutely no question who's in charge: it's the oldest cat. When she wants something, she gets it. If she doesn't, she proceeds to jump up on desks and chew important paperwork. ._. She has all the humans trained to jump as soon as she even begins looking sideways at the desks.

I wish she would meow. We've been trying to reinforce meowing for the past ten years. She still prefers the ol' "jump up on stuff and chew it" routine.

Anyway, the point is, cats learn how to get the response they want out of people. It's just like humans, really.

Online Valerian

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2010, 03:48:58 PM »
Mountain lions are also the largest cat capable of purring.  Coincidence?  I think not!

*ahem*  But yeah, while I didn't realize there was purring involved, one of my cats has a most loud and insistent meow that he makes only when begging for food.  It's very distinctive.

My other cat, though making a much wider range of sounds overall, is generally much quieter.  She'll lead me to the kitchen when she wants food or fresh water (she's a stickler for fresh water, she is -- if it was poured an hour ago, it's too old), and will often make a series of little, high-pitched meows as she walks.  They almost sound musical, really, like she's trilling out a note, and they certainly don't get anywhere near the volume of my other cat's demands.  She's a much more subtle tyrant.   ;D

Offline Ket

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2010, 04:04:04 PM »
My cat's food cry is very distinctive as well. He also has what I call his mate cry.  When his brother was around more often, they both made the noise when in different areas of the house. You would hear it from one and then the other would come flying out from whatever room he was in. (Yes, they are both males - yes I know...)  My cat's brother is no longer around, and before I moved he had taken a liking to a cat who lived on the second floor apartment across the courtyard. He would sit in the window and make that call whenever he saw the other cat.

Then there are his playful noises, a flutter of chirps and twitters. I think he's part maine coon because he doesn't actually meow. But I've learned his vocalizations well.

Offline Trouble

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2010, 04:16:58 PM »
Whenever one of my cats get lost, I make a certain meow to get them back. So, I guess it works both ways: they imitate babies when they want attention and I'll meow to get their attention.

One of my cats has a very particular victory meow: it's loud and very obnoxious. I think it's her way of trying to call her 'kittens' (that is, me and the rest of my family) to dinner. Her prey is normally an acorn, though, so... yeah. Maybe not. Maybe she just wants people to notice that she did something.

Another cat is part Siamese. She's very loud and uses lots of vocalizations. It's easy to tell the difference between her 'I WANT PETS' meow and her 'MY FOOD BOWL IS EMPTY, PEASANT' meow.

Offline BlisteredBlood

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2010, 05:32:34 PM »
I kinda figured this out on my own. But why they had to go and waste money on the research - something I'm inclined to agree with Ket on - is just mind boggling.

Offline SerephinoTopic starter

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2010, 08:54:49 PM »
My cat takes naps on me.  If I move and wake her she yells at me.  And she does have a very distinct cry that I hear from the moment I wake up until I get up and feed her in the morning. 

Offline Wolfy

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2010, 09:00:26 PM »
I kinda figured this out on my own. But why they had to go and waste money on the research - something I'm inclined to agree with Ket on - is just mind boggling.

Because Cancer has no cure, and they just had the money around...Ya know, ya gotta spend that stuff, man...ya can't, I dunno, SAVE it.

Offline Samael

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2010, 11:20:02 PM »
Joining the club of people who say "..they needed to research this?" as someone who owns a cat as well.
After about 2 weeks of having a kitteh you will know that your cat runs your life :/

Offline tiffanymom

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #13 on: May 12, 2010, 11:23:29 PM »
They had to waste research money on that?  All they had to do was ask a cat owner.

I find this part interesting. I didn't know there had been actually research on it.

Anyone who's ever heard a mountain lion cry knows that it sounds exactly like a human baby in need.

Yes

Cats are like any other animal including humans and will learn and take queues from their humans and use them to gain the advantage. Cats probably learn what makes their owner melt and give them attention and what they want just like we all do. But cats act so cool and never lower themselves to act in a defensive posture that we cannot say no to them.

Offline Braioch

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2010, 04:49:34 AM »
I'm probably the only cat owner who isn't run by their cat o_0

I mean my friends and family frequently call me a big cat as it is, so my cat probably just views me as a bigger version of him......

>.>

Ahem, anyways, I usually just yell at him when he's being annoying and refuse to feed him until it's time. He was once a stray so he will eat everything in the bowl we put down because apparently he thinks it won't always be there, though he will constantly demand that it be there. Though he knows how to run my roommate quite well, he likes to play a game with him. He likes to meow very loudly when I'm asleep down the hall towards my room, my roomie will all but rush to feed him so that he doesn't wake my notoriously demonic in the morning self up. Though it's kind of russian roulette because if the cat wakes me up, he usually doesn't like me for the rest of the day ::)

Though he can tell when I'm in a good mood, and will ask for love then, usually by rubbing me gently, giving me the face and mewing, yes mewing, not meowing.

Also he talks to me, like he's a damn human.....

So yeah, I'm like the only person I know who really isn't run by their cat, odd as that is.....

/random rant

Offline SerephinoTopic starter

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #15 on: May 13, 2010, 07:40:13 PM »
I'm not completely controlled, only occasionally manipulated.  I don't get up until I want to, though usually end up feeding her first thing because she'll follow me around and cry until I do. 

Offline Paladin

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Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2010, 08:53:28 PM »
I'm not completely controlled, only occasionally manipulated.  I don't get up until I want to, though usually end up feeding her first thing because she'll follow me around and cry until I do. 


Same here.

Offline Tachi

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #17 on: May 14, 2010, 01:02:41 AM »
I don't really notice besides how cute my kitten sounds when she attempts to meow and nothing comes out. Or sometimes it's just a broken meow.

My cats always have food down anyway, so..,

Offline Acinonyx

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #18 on: May 14, 2010, 09:20:59 AM »
As for "wasting research money" on this - if I remember correctly (it's a while ago since I heard of this research), the problem is - as so often with science - that the journalism misrepresents the scope and point of the project.

The focus was in fact not on the cats, but on the humans and what triggers their motherly instincts (we all know there sadly are people who seem to lack these instincts).
I think the media article I read at the time even claimed that cats had "evolved" this high-pitched sounds to control their humans, which is utter nonsense, too.

It's been a while, but I remember some frustration among my colleagues about "yet another research misrepresented", especially in connection with the "wasting research money" argument.



(That said, of course my two cats exhibit meowy control over me, too. It's impossible to not be lulled into obedience by it! Little beasts!)


EDIT: I just read the article in question again [Current Biology from July 14th, 2009]. It's pretty much what I said above: the focus is 1. on the humans and the tone frequency that makes us humans want to care for something (and why - because our infants produce this tone) and 2. on how interspecies interaction may exploit such an intrinsic sensitivity. It's a short "correspondence" article in a not-so-popular journal - I doubt it was a big project with much funding behind it to begin with.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2010, 09:37:35 AM by Acinonyx »

Offline Red Tressed Imp

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2010, 10:32:46 PM »
Well, I used to have this dog who would groom my cat when the cat meowed in a certain way. I currently have a large dog who makes a certain noise at the mouser cat when he wants to be left alone. To a degree, all species can control another with some sound they make. So that's no surprise.

On the sharing aspect of this thread, my cat is part Siamese. He makes a LOT of noise. He will often walk through the house yowling. But every so often, I hear this little questioning "mrow?" When I glance down, he's looking up at me with his big blue eyes, and every time he does this, he wants the same exact thing. He wants me to play with him.

Offline Acinonyx

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #20 on: May 17, 2010, 04:24:15 AM »
Oh yes, Siamese have a hell of a voice. I'd love to have one, but not until I have my own house with no neighbours who can complain.
Though my very non-siamese cat can be very loud, too, so I guess my neighbours wouldn't hear the difference.

I hear that Siamese can also sound like they're saying "Mama". XD I think a cat that looks up at me with blue eyes and said "Ma-Ma" would get about everything it wants from me. VERY dangerous.




Offline Jude

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #21 on: May 17, 2010, 10:19:22 PM »
As for "wasting research money" on this - if I remember correctly (it's a while ago since I heard of this research), the problem is - as so often with science - that the journalism misrepresents the scope and point of the project.

The focus was in fact not on the cats, but on the humans and what triggers their motherly instincts (we all know there sadly are people who seem to lack these instincts).
I think the media article I read at the time even claimed that cats had "evolved" this high-pitched sounds to control their humans, which is utter nonsense, too.

It's been a while, but I remember some frustration among my colleagues about "yet another research misrepresented", especially in connection with the "wasting research money" argument.



(That said, of course my two cats exhibit meowy control over me, too. It's impossible to not be lulled into obedience by it! Little beasts!)


EDIT: I just read the article in question again [Current Biology from July 14th, 2009]. It's pretty much what I said above: the focus is 1. on the humans and the tone frequency that makes us humans want to care for something (and why - because our infants produce this tone) and 2. on how interspecies interaction may exploit such an intrinsic sensitivity. It's a short "correspondence" article in a not-so-popular journal - I doubt it was a big project with much funding behind it to begin with.
You were pretty much dead on in general.  9 times out of 10 when the media picks up a science story and runs with it they use a sensationalist headline which misrepresents what the scientist has actually found/accomplished.  They really love to use their imagination and find far-reaching implications to headline the article, instead of relying on fact.

Offline Acinonyx

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2010, 01:41:56 AM »
Jude, after the editor of a scientific journal managed to misrepresent my colleague's research that was published in the very same journal, I'm not suprised the lay media can't get it done properly, either. I heard of that "9 out of 10" quote as well and I think it's about correct, if not worse.

Online Doomsday

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2010, 03:05:44 AM »

Offline Acinonyx

Re: Cats can control humans
« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2010, 04:52:56 AM »