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Scientist: Cats think you are just a big, stupid cat (cnet.com)
54 points by zerny 1288 days ago | hide | past | web | 72 comments | favorite

Interesting topic and book although I highly recommended skipping this article in favor of the [NYT article cited](http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/science/cat-sense-expla...).

This title and article are misleading, no where in the NYT piece does it say cats think we're "big stupid cats", just that they use their social norms towards us, as that's all they know. The cnet article is juvenile speculation.

Franz Kafka wrote a short story, "Investigations of a Dog," in which a dog tries to figure out where his food comes from, and why he goes through a barking and jumping ritual before receiving his food, and ends up creating a myth of a giant invisible soaring dog.

Wow, much metaphysic. /sorry, couldn't resist.

I believe the meme is "Wow. Such ..."

I think "much", "such", and "very" are all appropriate "doge".

very wrong

much incorrect

Such pedantry.

That cats aren't really domesticated . . . I wholeheartedly agree. They have simply learned to cohabit with us.

That cats don't know we are different . . . I wholeheartedly disagree. In some respects, they treat us like cats, probably because that is the language they know. To be fair, however, many people treat their pets like little dumb humans while realizing that they aren't actually people.

What the hell is an anthrozoologist, anyway? That sounds like something he made up to call himself.

I don't know if you've heard of this website 'wikipedia', if not, you should visit it sometime. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthrozoology

It has been a lot of hours, so I doubt very many people will see this, but I'll try.

Wikipedia also has an entry on cryptozoology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptozoology

That doesn't make it any less of a made up word used by pseudo-scientists to self describe nor does it mean I should give much credence to anything a cryptozoologist says. The key difference is that I know cryptozoology is largely pseudoscience whereas I merely suspect it in the case of anthrozoology. At least the word, "cryptozoology," is a reasonable description of what they are trying to do: the study of hidden animals. Anthrozoologoy translates roughly as man animal study, a term pregnant with meaninglessness. So, let's see what Wikipedia has to say about anthrozoology:

"Anthrozoology . . . is the study of interaction between living things."

Hey, I have friends who work in that field. They call themselves . . . "ecologists." Or, if you want to limit it to the types of interactions in the article, "animal behaviourists." They might even say that they work on "inter-species communication." So, I apologise for being dismissive of a term I have never heard before used in a context where there are other widely used terms that would seemingly be appropriate.

And to any genuine scientists out there studying human animal interactions, I genuinely apologise for my snark. It is unfortunate that my first encounter with the field of "anthrozoology" has been tainted by the inane nonsense in this article. That said, I don't think human-animal interactions have been nearly as neglected as the wikipedia article implies.

To be fair 'Anthrozoology' was coined in late 2010 and it's quite likely the number of people who might call it their specialty is very small.


It is not at all clear what point you are trying to make. Put in a little effort.

Anthrozoology has a much lower search interest than dentistry and is localised in the United States.

Wikipedia would be the very last place I'd go to verify that a made-up-sounding scientific discipline is real. Any crank worth his salt has authored twenty separate Wikipedia entries before he gets press like this.

You bring spite.

Do cats realise that we are not cats? Do they actually have enough brain power to digest that?

How much brain power does it take to realize that a creature that doesn't look, smell or act in any way like a cat is not a cat? How would it be different from realizing that mice and dogs are not cats?

Enough brain power to come up with the concept of "being a cat", then leading to discriminating the environment between "is a cat" and "isn't a cat". Whether cats do is anyone's guess.

That said, cats probably have enough brainpower to come up with the concept of "I'm me". Just watch a cat, or a dog for that matter, looking at itself in a mirror if you need convincing.

"Take care of me" and "feed me" are pretty established too.

You are making assumption that cat's brain works the same as human's brain. Maybe that's good assumption but question is how good?

Have you seen this TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke... ? "being a cat" is related to self-awareness. Does cat has the same self-awareness as human beings?

You are making brave assumptions here, aren't you? Dogs = unfriendly cats that smell bad and look ugly, mice - edible cats that smell tasty and are small.

It might look like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPeattKV74A

Again that's just speculation. I would love to see scientific data here.

You would see far more feline on feline predation if this were the case though, wouldn't you?

It depends on the difference between a cat-cat and cat-mouse.

You've renamed everything as cat. But the problem remains the same.

I guess that changes problem slightly. Different criterions are chosen when taking actions. E.g.: Can I eat it? No - too big. No - smells bad. Two inputs - one output. Can I mate with it? No - smells bad. No - too weak.

While being human you might have much more sophisticated criterions and first criterion might be "is it human?". Most probably how it smells and how big it is will not be enough.

They realize that a dog or a mouse is not a cat, don't they.

I don't know. I guess they do but most probably not in the way we do it.

I've always said that I think dogs think that one day they too will become like us, which is why they insist on sitting in the drivers seat when you leave the car. However, I don't believe cats and dogs are so unaware as to think we are actually no different to them. I may agree if animals weren't able to recognize other species of animal, but clearly they can. Dogs and cats inherently know they don't like each other, cats like to chase birds and mice, so they can recognize other animals. Why would anybody make a statement assuming that a cat can't recognize that we are different from them.

'Dogs and cats inherently know they don't like each other'

Flat out wrong. Dogs inherently have a hunting and chasing instinct, so in the wild a dog will try and spook a cat to make it run, and then chase it and try and kill it if it does. If the cat doesn't run, or better yet, fights back (I've seen multiple cats do this), the dog will back off. And cats know enough to be concerned when a giant animal approaches, which is likely to trigger a fight or flight response, if the cat doesn't feel sufficiently protected where it is.

And many people have both dogs and cats living together, even in some instances sleeping together. I suspect the dog views the cat as a pack animal (and important to the owner, the alpha), and the cat views the dog as a source of warmth, but that is still very different from "inherently know(ing) they don't like each other".

I used to work in Veterinary IT and the office was above one of the clinics. The clinic cat ('Tom') was a three-legged , diabetic male who'd become completely at ease with all the visiting pet traffic.

One day, Tom ambled round a corner into the waiting area to get to his patch of sun in the middle, just as someone entered with a pretty big rottweiler; the dog saw Tom and started to bark and growl, but Tom just looked up and stayed in his warm spot in the middle of the room.

The dog just stared at Tom as if trying to work out why the cat hadn't moved. After a few more grunts, the dog just sat in a corner and wouldn't take his eyes off Tom. When the owner was called into the consulting room, the dog crept low around the perimeter of the room, working hard to keep as far away as possible and not letting Tom out of his sight - he was really spooked by the laid-back cat. Funniest 'stand off' I've ever seen.

Well, I can tell you that some cats will chase anything (usually anything smaller than themselves) and some cats will play with dogs as if they were a big brother. So while they may know that other animals are different from themselves, I'm not sure they recognize that they are a different species.

Don't know a lot about cat behavior. Would they hunt and kill a sparrow-sized kitten that wasn't theirs?

A male lion, when taking over a pride, will kill all the young lions that are not his offspring.

I have heard that lions' pack behaviour is more reminiscent of dogs than it is of domesticated cats, which have a more solitary nature similar to tigers or other big cats.

Do you know if this sort of behaviour has also been witnessed in wolf packs?

It's mentioned in Call of the Wild, but that's not a very reliable scientific source.

No; The social structure of Wolf packs is completely different from lion prides. Leadership is shared between a male and female (the alpha couple) who achieve their status independently from each other. Also, the pack includes subordinate males as well as females.

My understanding is that male cats are not necessarily good to have around kittens, even if they are the father, as they may see the kittens as future rivals.

That understanding isn't necessarily based on observed behavior or referenced studies though.

Infanticide is not unheard of in the animal kingdom...

> some cats will play with dogs as if they were a big brother.

I'd like to point out that this is an instance of you thinking of cats as small, stupid humans. Cats do not treat their siblings any different than other cats at the same age.

Indeed; that's the point I was attempting to make (though not very well). As far as I have seen, cats aren't afraid of a specific species, nor do they "identify" exclusively with only one specific species. If they find a dog (or a cat) who they can befriend, they do. If they find a large enough animal that scares them (I have a very tall friend), they'll run like hell and hiss whenever the animal is near. I'm not sure if they see classify species as much as they do friend or foe.

This isn't my interpretation of Cat Sense. The author clearly compares how cats treat each other and how they treat humans and points out the parallels. But the author really seems to be of the opinion that cats are more affectionate towards us than they are towards each other. Cats have depended on us for centuries to provide them mice to eat, but they haven't quite developed the same social skills with their own kind (as compared to dogs).

Ugh. Anyone who thinks cats having a "wild" streak is a good thing is an idiot, considering the sheer damage done to ecosystems by escaped and feral cats.

This is inane. Why is a cat friendly towards human visitors, yet hostile towards feline ones? We show human signs affection towards cats, why wouldn't they use their own body language towards us?

I haven't read the book this is based on so maybe that makes it more clear, but reading just the article I agree this is inane. I grew up with cats and have a cat now and they clearly act differently not only when it comes to strange humans vs strange cats, but also humans of different types, eg. genders (my cat trusts human females inherently but it takes her a long time to trust males, I adopted her from a shelter when she was 2 and assume she used to be abused by a male or something).

All that aside, cats do use their own body language towards us quite a bit, like the head-bump, the "making biscuits" thing and the slow eye blink. But they also customize things for us as well, like I've read other researchers who say cats don't meow (in a non-growl way) with each other after they are kittens, that is reserved for talking to humans.

>I've read other researchers who say cats don't meow (in a non-growl way) with each other after they are kittens

I remember reading that domestication tends to cause juvenile traits to carry into adulthood.

It's called neotony. Domesticated dogs rarely howl, and domesticated cats rarely roar. Both of them keep the urge to play much longer than their wild counterparts.

One interesting side-note is the idea that humans are also domesticated animals, and that we self-domesticated. A large part of what makes us human is that we maintain a degree of brain plasticity as we age and don't ever fully become adults. A fascinating piece of evidence for this is the way that baby chimps resemble baby humans, both in looks and behaviour.


"Domesticated dogs rarely howl"

You clearly haven't met our neighbours and their delightful King Charles Spaniels.

my cat trusts human females inherently but it takes her a long time to trust males

Huh. What's your best guess how she tells males and females (of another species: humans) apart?

Most likely by smell, that is how they identify each other and other animals, since their daytime vision kind of sucks. Sometimes they can tell when you're arriving way before you get to the door.

I'd guess largely on some visual cues like facial hair and some ol'factory ones.

Cats purr for humans. And they like to nest with humans.

There is room for the cat to be deferential to the much larger human and less so to the similar sized cat. There are also cats that don't much like visitors.

> Why is a cat friendly towards human visitors, yet hostile towards feline ones?

My (normal size) cat was friendly to human visitors as long as they were really big (100Kg+). It occasionally attacked other human visitors, presumably because they were easily scared. So perhaps it's just trying to assert dominance, regardless of species, but based on its estimated chance to succeed.

Because other cats are cat-sized so your cat thinks he can take them, but he knows better than to start a fight with a giant.

What about kids?

A toddler is like twice the size of a cat.

Dogs have owners; cats have staff. I guess they think of us as big stupid minimum wage cat staff.

Hey, dogs have (alpha) companions.

I'm always fascinated by the implications of the very common approach of people to anthropomorphize cats when discussing them and to put down human intelligence in relation to the cat in the process. I don't see it done nearly as commonly when dogs are discussed. It seems nearly universal in the discussion of cats anywhere online.

"Given that he believes cats are semi-feral and that they think we are cats too, we must surely consider that cats aren't all that stupid -- because they must realize that we are, in fact, quite that stupid."

We can't avoid applying human paradigms to animal behaviour. Cats strike us as introverted and cynical so they serve well the purpose of criticizing humanity; by playing the role of a cat, people can disclose about the pointlessness of life without sounding too bitter or too philosophical (much like dogs facilitate talking about how humans can be loyal, friendly and honorable).

Nonetheless, opinions about dogs and cats really are homogeneous. Maybe this means our ideas about those animals have been constructed over time. We wouldn't be so eager to call an eagle "loyal" or "smart". Our relationship with dogs and cats is so long that we've had enough time to carefully craft their images.

Cats strike us as introverted and cynical

A lot of that has to do with a cat's expression, which we assign human significance to. If a human looks at you through half-closed eyes, it can be a sign of suspicion; whereas if a cat looks at you through half-closed eyes, it usually means the cat likes you and trusts you, and feels comfortable around you.

In some places they are also food.

A hundred times this. Humans find it incredibly difficult to avoid anthropomorphizing things. While it's bound up with Theory of Mind (predicting others' mental states), one of our biggest talents, it goes a bit awry when applied to non-human species.

Just because we know what a human's intentions would be if it did what a cat did, does not mean we ascribed the same quality or depth of intention to a cat.

> Humans find it incredibly difficult to avoid anthropomorphizing things.

But this one takes the cake - they've even assigned similar (aeluromorphous) intent on the part of cats. Which is extra cute.

Dogs' motivations are well understood, while cats are less scrutable, and so we pretend they're complex, and therefore like ourselves.

What is an alternative model of the cat?

Colours are assigned emotions. This occurs more frequently. I think this will bring you much enjoyment in days following.


Enjoy the happiness happening onto you right now.

Cats think of us as big, dumb, non-threatening cats? I assumed they thought less highly of us.

Well, a cat would have at least properly escaped the entity encoding (caption on the photo)

The last time I published a professional paper you had to give your affiliation with your university, government agency or at least what gives your opinion credibility. Who is this guy and where does he get his data to make this claim?

I think cats are awesome too.

I doubt animals has the slightest knowledge of the fact that there is multiple spices of animals.

More like that animal is interesting that lager ugly one over there is not.

Ugly changes without a sense of cruelty.

There may be arrogance in saying that we can think in any other way that is not human.

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