Cat Psychology


Psychofelinology is a discipline waiting for the right moment to pounce onto a field of unsuspecting, mousy-haired academics. The research journal Behavioral Processes is ahead of the trend though. Its researchers have recently observed that:

Cats … seem to remember kindness and return favors later. If owners comply with their feline’s wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner’s wishes at other times. The cat may also “have an edge in this negotiation,” since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

This analysis has wide-ranging implications. For one, it dismisses as empirically unsound my own experience of cats as sefish creatures with little motivation to engage in co-operative interaction without the prospect of being either fed or housed. Furthermore, it indicates that cats have a rather sophisticated emotional memory system. I had always assumed that their disproprtionately large cerebellums – responsible for their extraordinary balance and super-felxibility as well as their ability to remember the way home in the dark-was countered by an impaired capacity for empathy.

However, it also vindicates my intuition that non-human animals can engage in a considerable degree of introspection and planning. I remember reading an article a while back about a chimpanzee in a zoo that collected and stored stones in order to hurl at ogling visitors at a later date. This was reported as a breakthrough discovery because the chimp was engaging in planned behavior. I thought this a rather primitive (you forgive the pun) conclusion to draw given that all hunting requires at least a degree of strategy, be it “instinctive” or not.

The finding that cats “may have an edge in negotiation” is in line with my prejudiced expectations however. Given that the Feline appears to have a capcity to understand emotional interaction, I am not at all surprised that it possesses an innate distaste for engaging in spontaneous displays of affection without at least the pleasure of adhering to the principle of reciprocal determinism, better known as “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

I believe that cats are divisive creatures for the very reason that their shrewdness taps into the deepest analysis of our own identity. I for one experience in the cat’s talents a stark reminder of my own shortcomings; unlike the feline fiend, I have a very poor sense of direction, impaired flexibility (as evidenced in my continued struggle in Beginner’s yoga) and am over-sensitive. Not quite a pushover, but I’m a bit of a ‘Yes Katzi’ when it comes to facilitating people against my more selfish – even catty – judgement. Furthermore, since I am still under my parent’s roof, I respect and envy in equal measure the self-sufficiency of the cat which house-hops for the best meals.

As I was apt to conclude in the final paragraph of all my undergraduate Psychology essays: further research is needed.

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9 thoughts on “Cat Psychology

  1. Sounds like you need a research subject for an N=1 pilot study. I happen to know one that will participate in research in return for solicited affection and treats…

  2. Kate, this blog is rockin’! It’s is my first time looking in a little while and you’re doing so well. I’m so impressed/bit jealous. I ran out of steam on my comment-from-nowhere-particular-with-no-angle effort.

    We should stay in touch as two TCDs who are trying to make it with words. Plus, my housemate knows who you are…do you she? Emily Odlum?

  3. Hey Kate!
    I had to re-read a couple of times to fully appreciate the humour injected. Ha! I actually see your humour BUT the thing is the vocabulary you have displayed made me looked at each unknown word twice! Then after that I lost track of the flow and had to re-read the entire entry. Forgive me for my vocab limitation – but for sure, I think more research in the understanding of the feline species!
    Just curious, whats the inspiration for this particular topic?

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