If you’re like me, you know the wonderful impact cats have on our lives. When we hear them purr and see them roll around on the floor, we’re also confident that we have a positive impact on their
lives. Common sense might also tell us that our pets — and cats in
particular — also pick up on our negative emotions. Researchers at
the University of Milan, Italy, searched for proof.
Led by Dr. Isabella Merola from the University of Lincoln’s School
of Life Science in the U.K., the study’s authors placed 24 cats and
their favorite humans in a room with an unusual object: an electric
fan affixed with plastic green ribbons. Those of us with cats know
that such an object would probably cause anxiety in any feline.
At one end of the room stood a screen that represented the cats’
only way out of the room, which also hid a video camera. After the
cats explored the room, their humans were asked to either positively
or negatively react to the fan, while alternately glancing back and
forth between the fan and the cat. A positive reaction included a
happy tone of voice, pleasant facial expressions, and a move toward
the fan. A negative reaction included a fearful tone of voice, frightened facial expressions, and a move away from the fan.
The majority of the cats — 79 percent — showed signs of social
referencing by looking between the fan and their favorite human.
Often studied in human babies, social referencing means looking to a
significant other to determine how to react in an unknown situation
or to an unfamiliar stimulus. In other words, these cats were looking
to their humans and asking themselves, “Should I be afraid of this?”
These cats also changed their behavior to match their humans’
emotional response. This groundbreaking study, “Social referencing
and cat-human communication,” was published in the January 2015
issue of Animal Cognition.
By susan logan-mccracken
A new study proves our profound
emotional impact on our cats.