We all know the drill. Your cat sidles up to you with a soft look on her face, purring and rubbing on you. Maybe she merely wants to bond with you or maybe she physically wants something from you. Cats have a bad reputation as users, but like everything, it is really more complex than that.
Our feline friends know that they have basic survival needs, like hunger and thirst. They know that we are the source of their resources, so they have become very adept at managing to get people to react in the ways they want. As a species, they have learned what actions cause the desired reactions from us as a whole and on an individual level too. This is evidenced by the way cats meow at us in order to communicate their wishes when they do not typically communicate in this way with any other beings.
Cats have learned other ways to motivate us to meet their needs. Any cat lover responds well to affection and attention from their cat and our cats have learned to utilize this tendency to communicate with us. They know that affection garners a good response. Think about the scenario from the eyes of your cat. When he acts friendly, you respond with kind words, gentle massaging and maybe even food rewards.
However, he might also want you for you. He knows he can meow and you will follow him to his food dish, but maybe it is the attention more than the food. Because many times, you will look in the dish and it already contains food. If he rubs on you and purrs, you will pick him up and rub him in a good way. Studies have proven that dogs have a release of oxytoxin upon seeing someone who is important to them. 1 There is no reason to believe that cats cannot also have a rush of positive brain chemicals when you pet and interact with them. These chemicals and warm feelings are their own emotional reward.
Motivators, actions and reactions are a basis for learned behavior for you and your cat. It may be sometimes a little diabolical, but if your cat is more affectionate when she wants something, it is because it works! She has trained you and you are a wonderful student. But don’t be so quick to reduce her interaction with you down to selfish needs because it is so much more than that for both of you.
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- Oxytocin promotes social bonding in dogs. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.2014 Jun 24;111(25):9085-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1322868111. Epub 2014 Jun 9.Romero T, Nagasawa M, Mogi K, Hasegawa T, Kikusui T.