University of Edinburgh Bronx Zoo Cat Study
The cute cat purring on your lap could actually be a neurotic, controlling wreck, according to university researchers – but contrary to some reports they probably don’t want to kill you.
Academics at the University of Edinburgh claim that domestic cats share neurotic personality traits with lions and other larger, wilder felines. The researchers looked at character traits among domestic cats housed in shelters. Working in conjunction with New York’s Bronx zoo, they compared the moggies with captive African lions, snow leopards, clouded leopards and Scottish wildcats.
Characteristics were “strikingly similar” across the species, they found. Domestic cats and lions both showed traits of neuroticism – they were fearful of people, suspicious and insecure. They both also showed “dominance” and “impulsiveness” traits.
Commenting on the study US forensic psychologist Dr Max Watchel, who was not involved in the study, told the BBC that cats are “little aggressive predators” that are “anxious and very non-self assured. They want to be in charge of the house,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. He added: “They could turn on you at any time.”
But the lead researcher on the Edinburgh study, Marieke Gartner, says there are limits to moggies’ aggression. To suggest your cat actually wants to kill you would be “a pretty far stretch”, Dr Gartner told CNET.
“Cats don’t want to bump you off,” she said. “But people often don’t know how to treat them and then are surprised by their behaviour.”
However, Gartner’s results might have been different if she had studied animals in the wild rather than those in zoos, and cats living in homes rather than those in shelters. The neurotic behavioural traits detected by her team could be a result of the animals’ artificial, captive environment.
“Larger animals are at a disadvantage in captive settings due to the inherently smaller amount of space they have,” the Edinburgh report said. “Similarly, the larger their natural range, the more captivity inhibits them from performing natural behaviours.”