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Are cats jerks? Or are YOU the jerk?
A new study from Oregon State University makes it clear: it's you.
- Researchers discovered that the more attention you give a cat, the more likely they are to return it.
- Cats are territorial; being in their home environment greatly affects their attitude.
- The common wisdom that cats are aloof is provably false.
This weekend, my wife and I visited the San Diego Zoo. Having grown up nearby, she visited often as a child, though it was my first time. While I generally avoid zoos, this particular one is a leading conservation institute. While a sense of overbearing voyeurism inherent in the zoo process persists, at least my money supported beneficial projects. Plus, where else am I going to see baboons?
For the most part, the animals seemed content, or at least not distressed. Except one: the jaguar. When I passed by, two small children were plastered against the glass partition, the jaguar pacing back and forth seeking an exit ramp. Smiling parents snapped photos, laughing as their kids smacked the glass in an attempt to gain the jaguar's attention. "Look, he wants to play!" one mother commented.
No, that's not what the cat wanted to do. I wasn't sure if the mother was just reassuring her son no ill will would befall him or she really was that ignorant. I heard many odd ideas about what the animals were doing throughout the day. That's the danger of anthropomorphizing other species: we usually get it wrong.
Forget wild animals, we misunderstand domesticated breeds all the time. I'm not sure how many times someone has told me that house cats are aloof, but any cat guardian that takes the time to form a relationship with their housemates will quickly laugh that one away. For example, the picture below is where our three cats spend most of the day while I work at my laptop.
Osiris, Baltasar, and Magellan in their favorite territory.
Photo: Derek Beres
Considering all three are males, it's not always this peaceful. Every night we have to separate them; either two of them sleep on our bed, or just the Maine Coon, Magellan, the most territorial of them all. Every morning includes lap time or they get irritated. To claim that cats aren't social is simply a way to claim your ignorance about this particular animal.
Which is the topic of a new study, conducted by researchers at Oregon State University and published in the journal Behavioral Processes. In the first experiment, a total of 46 cats were studied, 23 at a shelter and the other half in their own homes. A stranger sat in the middle of the room, ignoring the cat for two minutes before spending the next two showering them with attention. The second study followed the same protocol, though with their guardians, not strangers.
Regardless of whether it was guardian or stranger, cats are more social when humans pay attention to them. As lead author of the study, Kristyn R. Vitale, says:
"In both groups, we found [cats] spent significantly more time with people who were paying attention to them than people who were ignoring them."
They're pretty human in that sense. The more you pay attention to someone, the more likely they are to interact with you. Of course, there are a few things to consider:
- Like humans, some cats are more social than others.
- Understanding how your cat likes to be engaged is essential. Our cats are three distinct animals with different personalities, and so are treated as such.
- Cats are territorial. They generally prefer to be at home with strangers than with their owners in a foreign space.
Territory is generally secondary with dogs, who prefer to be around their owner most of all. In fact, treating cats like dogs is likely the main reason many people are ignorant about feline social behaviors. As Jackson Galaxy writes in Total Cat Mojo:
Part of the issue is that we, perhaps subconsciously, look at cats through dog-colored glasses; that is to say, we expect them to communicate with us in a way that we can instantly recognize. As you can guess by now, that expectation goes against the entire history of our relationship to cats.
How Do You Like Meow: Buster | My Cat From Hell
For example, meet a dog in the street and you'll likely pet them on their head, neck, pretty much anywhere within reach. You can't just pet a cat wherever you'd like, nor is it smart to scratch one from above or behind without establishing a frontal nose-to-finger relationship first. Some cats are quickly stimulated; an "innocent" neck scratch turns into an opportunity for biting.
So don't be surprised when you're at the receiving end of a claw for petting a cat on the rear. It's not the cat being a jerk. It's you.
Because, like humans, cats like to maintain control of their environment. As Mike Delgado, who studies cat behavior at UC Davis, says:
"It's a cool study, and it does show that when we're attentive to cats, they are interested. Even in the attentive phase, the cat had a lot of control, and that's really what we think they like — the ability to leave. It's not that they're aloof. It's just that they want choice."
Upbringing is also a major component. My Russian Blue, Osiris, is nearly 19 and still burrows into my chest and neck with his head, a likely sign that he was separated from his mother too young. This makes sense, given that I rescued him from a Lower East Side storefront when he was just two months old. Our purebred three-year-old Doll Face Persian, Baltasar, who we rescued when abandoned by his owner six months ago, never lived on the streets; he shows no similar behavior.
Cartoon by Futurism
Thinking a cat is aloof or mean is a matter of not knowing their history. Even for cat owners there is an important educational component. For example, site swapping newly introduced cats sets the rhythm for future success in maintaining a harmonious household; providing plenty of scent soakers is essential, while giving tree dwellers plenty of climbing apparatus is beneficial for their emotional well-being.
If you want to maintain a good relationship with the animals you bring into your home, learn to speak their language; don't expect them to learn yours. As the researchers conclude:
Together, this body of research indicates domestic cats can detect human attentional state and modify their behavior in response, demonstrating they are sensitive to human social cues and tend to be more social when presented with an attentive human.
Translation: be a jerk and you produce jerk cats. That's a choice, not destiny.
The truth about panda sex, with zoologist Lucy Cooke
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.