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Your Cat Isn't as Attached to You as You Think

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It’s easy to tell that a dog loves you. The moment you return from a short absence, there are slobbering kisses and overeager jumps (and, in the case of puppies, some loss of bladder control) to prove it. With cats, it’s a little harder. Sure, they might rub up against your legs a bit, but do they actually care about you, or do they just want dinner? 

A new study by a pair of animal behavior researchers from the University of Lincoln in the UK suggests that you may not be as precious to your kitty as she is to you. It’s not that your cat doesn’t like you—it's just likely that she doesn’t look to you as her source of safety and security in an uncertain world. 

As they report in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers tested how much cats really like their owners using the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test, a psychology test that has been used to demonstrate both babies’ and dogs’ perceptions of their parents/owners as their primary source of safety and security. In it, the study subjects (in this case, cats) are placed in unfamiliar rooms with their owners and with a stranger. The researchers observe whether the cats respond differently to being with their owner versus a stranger, testing whether the cats look to their owners for a special source of comfort. 

In tests with 18 cats (two others had to be excluded because, in typically feline fashion, they spent the entire experiment hiding), kitties didn’t alter their behavior significantly if their owner was present versus a stranger. They didn’t play more with their owner than with a stranger, nor were they more vocal when their owner left the room than when a stranger did. They didn’t try to stick closer to their owners in a strange situation, which would signify secure attachment. 

“We do not reject that cats may have social preferences, nor that some cats might form this type of attachment in certain circumstances, nor do we wish to imply that cats do not form some form of affectionate social relationship or bond with their owners,” they write, “only that the relationship with the primary caregiver is not typically characterized by a preference for that individual based on them providing safety and security to the cat.”

Certainly cats have a different relationship with their owners than with total strangers, but it may not mimic the parental-strength attachment seen in dogs. It’s also possible that cats express their bond with their owners in ways that a test designed to measure infants’ attachment to their mothers cannot deduce. However, the study confirms what we’ve always known: Cats are independent, mysterious creatures. 

[h/t: Washington Post]

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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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