Animal researchers set up an experiment to find out if cats are controlling their owner’s behaviors with their cries. I think you know how this turns out.
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 study showed that humans find these mixed calls annoying and difficult to ignore.” They needed scientists to know this?