It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Instead of loud miaowing when they want food, behaviour likely to have them ejected from the bedroom, some cats disguise their cries for attention within an otherwise pleasant purr. The result, according to a study published tonight in the journal Current Biology, is a complex "solicitation" purr with a high-frequency element that triggers a sense of urgency in the human brain. Owners find it irritating, but not irritating enough to kick the cat out, and feel driven to respond.
Dr Karen McComb, a specialist in mammal vocal communication at the University of Sussex, said that by employing an embedded cry, cats appear to be exploiting innate tendencies that humans have for nurturing offspring.
New research has finally laid bare the degree to which cats exploit humans.
"Human participants in our experiments judged purrs with high levels of this element to be particularly urgent and unpleasant." When the team re-synthesised the recorded purrs to remove the embedded cry, leaving all else unchanged, the urgency ratings for those calls decreased significantly.
McComb said she thinks this cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring, "but we think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans." In fact, not all cats use this form of purring at all, she said, noting that it seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners rather than those living in large households, where their purrs might get overlooked by poorly trained people.