A study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology last year blew up in U.S. media outlets this week because it addressed the question all cat lovers think about whenever their feline friend almost trips them at the top of the stairs: Do our cats actually want to kill us?
Maybe some of them do, but it’s not a guarantee. Despite many of the headlines circulating the internet this week, the study’s lead researcher at the University of Edinburgh, Marieke Gartner, said the study couldn’t conclude that cats do want to kill us, reports the Huffington Post.
What the study did find is that both cats and lions share three personality factors, which describe each species: neuroticism, impulsivity and dominance.
“Each individual will range along the spectrum of traits that make up each of the personality factors,” Gartner told the Huffington Post.
This means that individual cats and lions will fall somewhere on a range from not very impulsive to very impulsive, or not very neurotic to very neurotic, according to the Huffington Post.
The researchers at the University of Edinburgh teamed up with the Bronx Zoo to compare personalities of four wild big cats with those of domestic house cats.
They found that house cats were most like lions, personality wise, but that doesn’t mean they all have the same levels of the personality factors, neuroticism, impulsivity and dominance. Rather, the study just found that they share those factors, according to USA Today.
“Across the five felid species we assessed, personality structure was strikingly similar and also seemed to be related to other studies’ findings, such as in cheetahs and tigers,” the study said.
What do these “wild” personality factors mean, then?
Well, the factors just account for why some house cats want to love on you all of the time while others want their space. Further, the factors also might tell you why your cat likes to be pet in one place at one time but will maul you for petting it in that same spot 10 minutes later.
9NEWS Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel said that the study makes some cats’ unpredictable behavior just a little more predictable.
“They’re cute and furry and cuddly, but we need to remember when we have cats as pets, we are inviting little predators into our house,” Wachtel wrote for 9NEWS. “For a lot of people, it is worth it. Cats can be fantastic, sweet companions. Until they turn on you.”
Again, Gartner, the lead researcher on the study, wanted to emphasize that the study doesn’t say that all cats are naturally like lions or that they want to kill you, just that they share some personality factors—the traits of which differ from cat to cat. So, because each cat might have different levels of neuroticism, maybe some really do want to kill us.
Still, Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant, told the Huffington Post that it’s still fun to get some kind of idea about what’s going on inside our cat’s heads, whose thoughts seem much more complex than dogs’ thoughts. Delgado pointed out that if cats really were as predatory or maniacal as their big cat counterparts, they would’ve made their move to complete our annihilation by now.
“If they really wanted to kill us,” she asked the Huffington Post, “don’t you think it would have happened?”
Who knows, but at least now when you look into your cat’s pensive eyes, you’ll have some of an idea about what’s going on in that sly, furry head.