Sarah Chavera Edwards and her family adopted a cat over a year ago from a shelter in Arizona. While the cat, named Houdini, now trusts Chavera Edwards and her family, he still scratches himself sometimes and is easily frightened.
“Still, we love him and celebrate his slow progress,” says Chavera Eduard. “He’ll never be a super affectionate lap cat, but he’s fun, fierce and independent.”
Before and during COVID-19, cats and their strange, erratic mannerisms brought joy to their owners’ lives. Actually a study found that cat-human relationships had a positive effect on people during periods of staying at home. One reason is that some cat owners like it when their cats misbehave.
Disinhibition is ideal
Cats can be little monsters, but some people love them for it. Ann article published in Journal of Personality Research examines the psychopathic traits of domestic cats, namely boldness, meanness, and disinhibition. The researchers defined disinhibition as “reduced behavioral restraint” and “impaired affect and drive regulation.” People may find this behavior annoying in other people, but not in house cats.
Three studies were included in this study, and the first two studies involved cat owners completing questionnaires about their cat’s behavior remotely. The third study was much smaller but had more controls, such as cat owners living in a certain area of England, and the cats could at least tolerate wearing a collar.
The study found that cat owners like it when cats show more disinhibition, such as jumping around without a care in the world, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, unfriendliness towards other pets.
“These behaviors tend to promote more frequent cat-owner interactions and emotional closeness between owner and cat,” says Rebecca Evans, Ph.D. student at the University of Liverpool and first author of this study. “Pet unfriendliness predicting higher relationship quality was somewhat surprising.”
Cat owners don’t like all the psychopathic traits in cats. For example, these studies show that boldness and meanness predict a negative relationship between a person and their cat. However, how cat owners perceive their cats’ behavior, such as hitting, can also be subjective.
“The more time you spend around your cat, the more you understand its likes and dislikes, and this can help foster more positive cat-owner interactions,” says Evans, whose own cat exhibits disinhibition behavior. “For example, my cat prefers chin scratches to belly rubs and prefers not to be picked up.”
Relationships can change the perception of behavior
The type of relationship a person has with their cat can also affect their perceptions of their cats’ behavior. A study published in the journal Animals found that there are five different bonds between people and their cats. Different relationships people have with cats can change how they perceive their chaotic behavior.
For example, “it would not be surprising if strange cat behavior is considered part of the cat’s behavioral repertoire” for people with “distant associations” with their cats, says Clare Ritchie-Bono, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lincoln and one of the authors of the study.
People who got cats and lived alone during COVID-19 may have developed a codependent relationship with their cat or cats. “The presence of the cat will not only improve the owner’s life, but also help him cope with the stressful situation of the pandemic,” says Ricci-Bonot. “The owner will seek contact with the cat.” A cat exhibiting excessive tendencies can be a welcome distraction, such as screaming in the shower, if the cat is not angry.
Agreeing with Evans, Ritchie-Bono says that people’s acceptance of cats’ chaotic behavior may be related to how they perceive their cat. “We often project our own traits onto animals, which may or may not lead to relationship strain,” she says.