Archive for July, 2009

Research reveals how cats purrfect the art of exploitation

Pepa,Dr Karen McComb's cat, who inspired her research into how cats embed a special cry into their purrs when they want feeding Crafty cats coax their owners into giving them what they want by using a special purr that humans just can't ignore, says new research from Sussex published in Current Biology journal on Monday 15 July, 2009. The team of Sussex psychologists discovered that cat owners find this "solicitation" purr irresistible because a high-frequency element embedded within it, similar to a cry or meow, subtly triggers a sense of urgency. By employing such an embedded "cry", cats appear to be exploiting innate tendencies that humans have for nurturing offspring. However, in this case the felines subtly bury their "feed me" messages in an otherwise pleasant purr. Lead author Dr Karen McComb was inspired to initiate the study because her own cat, Pepo, had the knack of consistently waking her up in the mornings with insistent purring. The crucial factor in determining whether a purr was rated as urgent or pleasant was an unusual high-frequency element - reminiscent of a cry or meow - embedded within the naturally low-pitched purr. When the team re-synthesised purrs to remove the embedded cry (and left other characteristics unchanged), the urgency ratings for these purrs decreased significantly. "The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response - and solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing." Not all cats, however, use this solicitation purring: "It seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one with their owners rather than in large households where there is a lot going on and such purring might get overlooked. Meowing seems to be more common in these situations." ".. those that did use solicitation purring and were recruited to help with the research were not always cooperative. Karen says: "Cats exhibit this behaviour in private with their owners, typically at anti-social times, such as first thing in the morning. They also tend to clam up or leave when strangers turn up. We had to train owners to use the equipment to record both the solicitation and non-solicitation purrs that we needed in their own homes. University of Sussec Bulletin July 17, 2009