Saturday, September 5, 2015

About That Published Paper Stating Cats are More Independent Than Dogs & Contest Winner

Photo Courtesy: Gordon Brice
There was a flurry of publicity surrounding an article about cats and attachment to owners published this week in Plos One, a Journal of published "research" that states on their website: There's no stress waiting to find out if your article meets subjective acceptance criteria. Read that again. Carefully. When research is published in a Peer Reviewed Journal it takes a long time and passes through the hands of several researchers in your field. From what I read, that's apparently not so with Plos One. They go on to assure that Every article published by PLOS ONE is thoroughly assessed by an Academic Editor and an average of 2 reviewers drawn from an expert global network.  Then they brag about an academic network and go on to say how much publicity they can crank out for your paper.  You can find links for Publication Fees, Media, well, you get the idea. Those fees, by the way, can range from just over thirteen hundred dollars to nearly three thousand dollars. Check it out for yourself. They also have some support for those who cannot afford to pay the fees. I had seen articles from this publication which does show that they get a lot of publicity. I will admit that I have never read anything in this Journal when researching an article for publication.
Photo Courtesy: Frank Incremona

This takes us to the aforementioned Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris cats) Do Not Show Signs of Secure Attachment to Their Owners by Alice Potter and Daniel Simon Mills Animal Behavior Cognition and Welfare Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom. It was received on June 5, 2013, Accepted on June 18, 2015, and published on September 2, 2015. It was not externally funded, but was undertaken in partial fulfillment of the MSc of Alice Potter.

The paper goes on to detail how they devised research done on a small number of cats based on research that is done with dogs to determine their attachment to their owners. Cats and Dogs are two entirely different species with very different norms of behavior. One thing that you do not do is remove cats from their home environment and expect them to behave as they normally would when plunked down in an entirely new place. They need as much time as it takes to adjust to a new place, a new home. They prefer to watch from a place of safety where they can observe but not be seen, emerging when they are comfortable. This was not provided for them. Dogs are completely different and unless the dog has a behavior issue with shyness or fear, they don't care where they are. One place is as good as the next. 
Photo Courtesy: Lisette Brodey

Dogs tend to view a room as a human does, on one level. Cats view a room on many levels. The floor is the first, the chair is on the second level, with levels increasing as higher places are found in the room. 

These "researchers," using this design, then brought in cats to see if they were attached to their owners and how they responded to strangers in the room. How were the people standing or moving? Why were the cats observed in a strange place and expected to behave the way another species would? Few of the footnotes mentioning other research concerned cats. One was about Monkeys, far more were about dogs.

I don't mind saying this: I'm not impressed. 

The truth about cats, which any behaviorist or behavior consultant can tell you, is that cats are Independent Hunters but they are not Independent Animals. They seek out affection and attention. This is why a cat is often on the book you are reading or your keyboard while you are at the computer. He is soliciting attention. Cats often greet their owners at the door when they come home and some are quite vocal, using a number of sounds as they "talk" to their owners. Many cats will follow their people from room to room, engage them in play and behave as one would expect a loving companion to behave. They headbutt and give slow eye blinks as a display of affection, rub up against their owners, some kiss and snuggle in for a cuddle. If that isn't attachment then someone is going to have to come up with a different definition of the word.
Photo Courtesy: Jayne Lewis

Sadly, the pseudo-science is confirming Old Wives' Tales about cats that many of us have been working to dispel and replace with the truth. Comments to articles based upon this paper range from clear descriptions of cats who do not behave that way at home but are, indeed, attached to their owners, to those saying it confirmed how awful cats are!  

Frankly, I'm disgusted. I would welcome real, peer-reviewed research. If I'm wrong then I want peer-reviewed research by experts in the field to prove it.

What's your opinion?

Now, to announce the winner of this past week's contest. The lucky winner of a copy of The Dalai Lama's Cat by David Michie, published by Hay House, is Sue Werkheiser! Congratulations! Please contact me through my website:, with your mailing address which will be sent along to the publisher so you can receive the book.  Thanks to everyone who entered.


Gordon Brice said...

First off, many thanks Darlene for providing expert details about the publishing of articles and the process involved. The information that you have provided certainly makes a mockery of the article in question here, along with the "research" carried out.
Anyone who has been owned by a cat will tell you that, although they may be curious creatures, they are comfortable in their own homes and any research conducted to establish independence, or attachment to their "owner", should be carried out there or in a familiar place. Cats do seek affection and attention and, to be honest, research of this nature is unnecessary and a waste of money that would be better used elsewhere.

Layla Morgan Wilde ( Cat Wisdom 101) said...

Thanks Darlene for being the voice of reason. I just googled news(tons of press) about the study and hating some of the headlines like: Cats More Independent and Don't Miss You. That's worse than pseudo science. Cats can and do have separation anxiety.

Darlene said...

Thank you, Gordon. I was furious when I read it in a British newspaper online and then read the comments. I had to do something immediately.

Apparently, the "goal" was for the student to get her Masters. How proud she must be to have attained it by junk science. What was her professor thinking in aiding and abetting this mockery?!

Darlene said...

Thank you, Layla. I was furious at the headlines and some of the comments. While many gave examples of their own cats the rest were so happy to say that cats were horrible. All the work we've done to dispel the myths and then THIS. I'm hoping this post will go viral to get the information to as many people as possible. I hope everyone who loves cats will get on the bandwagon and dispel yet one more myth that parades as science.

Randye Spina said...

Someone should tell my cat that...she didn't get the memo. I guess she was too busy head-butting me.

Darlene said...

Randye, you're so right! Those "researchers" didn't have a clue about cats.