Bias and Animal Behaviour, Or: Your Cat May Not Be a Psycho

Bias and Animal Behaviour, Or: Your Cat May Not Be a Psycho

bias towards cat behaviour

I found myself the in the GTA a couple of weeks ago, talking up our David & Sons barbecue sauce at local heroes Seed to Sausage’s new location. After a long day’s work meeting, greeting, and (facilitating) eating, I decided against the long drive back to the DFC ranch. Instead, I stayed overnight at my middle son, Ben’s, apartment. He and my daughter-in-law are cat people, and they have a beautiful, friendly calico kitty named Margaret — or so they insist. I couldn’t tell because she manifested to me as a white, black, and orange streak that went under the bed at warp speed. We figured she smelled Samson and Jill on me or otherwise knew I was a friend of canines and traitor to cat-dom.
I was struck by how little I know about cats in relation to dogs, simply because I live day-in-day-out with the latter. Indeed, I might even have been tempted to call Margaret a psychopath due to her behaviour. Erroneously, it turns out: Sarah Zhang over at The Atlantic has an interesting take on why that might be the case. And it has a lot to do with our human priorities.
“There’s always an implicit comparison when we talk about cats as aloof little jerks, says Mikel Maria Delgado, a postdoctoral researcher on cat behavior at the University of California at Davis. And that comparison is with dogs, which humans have spent thousands of more years domesticating and molding in our image.

‘We like things that remind us of us,’ Delgado told me. ‘We like smiling. We like dogs doing what we tell them. We like that they attend to us very quickly. They make a lot of eye contact.’

Cats, she pointed out, simply don’t have the facial muscles to make the variety of expressions a dog (or human) can. So when we look at a cat staring at us impassively, it looks like a psychopath who cannot feel or show emotion. But that’s just its face. Cats communicate not with facial expressions but through the positions of their ears and tails. Their emotional lives can seem inscrutable — and even nonexistent — until you spend a lot of time getting to know one.”
Additionally, some have argued that, where dogs are attached to people, cats are attached to places. What we humans see as another check mark in the They-Secretly-Hate-Me-And-Want-Me-Dead category, is simply a result of how cats socialize — and really just serves to uncover our bias as pack animals (like dogs!).
Though I have a newfound empathy for cats, having spent the night as the target of Margaret’s Eye Beams of Discomfort, I’m still resolutely Camp Dog. Though, in the long run, it may come back to, um, bite me. Where do your loyalties lie, dear readers? Dog, cat, or fabulously Other?