Purrsuasion

A new study finds what cat owners have long suspected. The cat wears the pants in the family and humans are merely there to fulfill their every need. The study’s results show that cats know exactly what they want and how to get it, especially when it comes to food.

The Centre for Mammal Vocal Communication Research at the University of Sussex in Britain conducted the study and found that when hungry, cats use a specific type of purr they call “solicitation purring”. The research team discovered cats embed the purr with an insistent cry that sounds similar to the high frequency cry of a human baby. Results indicated that this particular sound is simply harder for humans to ignore.

Lead study author, Dr. Karen McComb, formulated an experiment that would test how humans react to the various types of purrs. The study consisted of 50 people (not all cat owners) and the purrs of ten different cats. Participants consistently found the purr with the high-pitched cry to be much more pressing and unpleasant sounding. The urgency ratings greatly decreased when the participants were played the manipulated purr without the cry.

According to Dr. McComb:

‘The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response – and solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing.”

The research team also determined that this type of purr is more likely to be found in smaller households. There is generally less commotion and therefore, the cat is more likely to receive a response from the owner. This study is published in the July 14, 2009 issue of Current Biology.

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