Research from the University of Edinburgh and the Bronx Zoo suggests that cats have personalities similar to those of African lions. Some suggest this means your cat wants to be rid of you.
I fear that cat research has been heading in a disturbing direction for some time. Last year, a wise anthrozoologist declared that your feline thinks you’re just one big, stupid cat. Earlier this year, researchers in the UK said cats really don’t need their owners at all. And now this.
Some have interpreted a study from the Bronx Zoo and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as saying that your cat might be trying to bump you off. Yes, kill you, eat you, that sort of thing. The study is entitled "Personality Structure in the Domestic Cat (Felis silvestris catus), Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), and African Lion (Panthera leo)". Truly, I love these academic titles.
The researchers set out to discover whether there were any consistent similarities in personality between these disparate types of felines. What they found was that each had three dominant personality types. The Scottish wildcat, for example, had at its core dominance, agreeableness and self-control. Which is not dissimilar to many of my Scottish friends. As for domestic cats: Dominance, impulsiveness and neuroticism. I can see how living with humans makes you neurotic. I have experienced this. However, what the researchers further discovered was that these three were the same personality traits prevalent in African lions. And we all know that these lions, especially when they feel threatened, tend not to disappear into their manes
The researchers studied the animals’ behaviors along a popular test of the "Big Five" human personality aspects: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion/Introversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. When it comes to domestic cats, the research report said of their neuroticism that it had " the highest loadings on anxious, insecure, and tense, suspicious, and fearful of people."
What are we doing to these animals? Or have they always been this way? The mere thought that cats are fearful of us and might, therefore, want to take us out is chilling. But still less chilling, perhaps, than knowing and seeing what humans do to each other.
Marieke Gartner, one of the researchers involved in the study, told me that it was "a pretty far stretch" to suggest that your cat actually wants to kill you. She said: "Cats have different personalities, and they ended up living with us because it was a mutually beneficial situation. Some cats are more independent, some are quite loving. It just depends on the individual. It’s not that cats are self centered. It’s that they are a more solitary or semisolitary species." Yes, but are they secretly harboring ill-feeling toward us? Gartner explained: "Cats don’t want to bump you off, but people often don’t know how to treat them and then are surprised by their behavior."
A hundred cats from Scottish shelters were examined. The researchers observed the wilder animals in various zoos and wildlife parks across the UK and the US. Even though the scientists concede that their work is by its very nature imperfect and more research is required, they concluded: "Across the five felid species we assessed, personality structure was strikingly similar."
Yes, you’ve got a little lioness in your house. She’s not your friend.
Please remember, therefore, the three main personality traits of your cat: Dominance, Impulsiveness and Neuroticism. And tread very carefully.