The results of the first empirical study on the connection between cats and humans probably come as no surprise to those of us who share our lives with cats: Cats bond with their caregivers to a similar degree as infants and dogs.
In the study, researchers used an abbreviated version of the “secure base test” previously used to assess attachment in dogs and infants. At the start of the experiment, a cat and its caregiver spend 2 minutes together in an unfamiliar environment. The human then leaves, and the cat remains alone in the room for 2 more minutes. In the final stage, the caregiver returns for a 2-minute reunion period.
Secure vs. insecure attachment
When the human returns, the cat’s behavior either shows secure or insecure attachment. A cat who demonstrates secure attachment will continue to confidently explore the room and show few signs of stress. A cat who demonstrates insecure attachment will show signs of stress.
The study looked at 70 kittens and 38 cats over the age of 1 year. Overall, 64.3% of the kittens proved securely attached to their caregivers, while 35.7% had an insecure bond with them. Among the older cats, 65.8% demonstrated secure attachment, while 34.2% were in the insecure category. By comparison, 65% of human infants form secure attachments, while 35% develop insecure bonds. In dogs, 58% of attachments are secure, and 42% are insecure.
I would love to see a follow up study to refine these results and explore what caused cats to experience secure vs. insecure attachment, but I’m not sure how you would even design a study like that, or whether it’s been done with infants or dogs. It would be interesting to analyze how nature versus nurture contributes to attachment.