Are Humans Hardwired for Feline Servitude?

Even if you’ve never lived with a cat, you can still be subject to their powers of mammalian mind-control.

The Cry Embedded Within the Purr,” Karen McComb, Anna M. Taylor, Christian Wilson, and Benjamin D. Charlton, Current Biology, 19 (13), July 2009, pp. R507-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.033. The authors, from The Centre for Mammal Vocal Communication and Cognition Research and Zoo Atlanta, wrote in Current Biology:

“Here we report how domestic cats make subtle use of one of their most characteristic vocalisations — purring — to solicit food from their human hosts, apparently exploiting sensory biases that humans have for providing care. When humans were played purrs recorded while cats were actively seeking food at equal amplitude to purrs recorded in non-solicitation contexts, even individuals with no experience of owning cats judged the ‘solicitation’ purrs to be more urgent and less pleasant.”

Hear a solicitation purr versus a non-solicitation purr.

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  • Moongold

    ALL cat purrs are beautiful, and as a longtime cat owner and appreciator, I do not agree that they manipulate any more than any other being on the planet.  Cats purr when happy, when wanting to convey comfort to others, particularly their humans, and like all of us, are thankful and grateful for food.  I cannot understand people when they claim cats are “only” interested in food and that dogs are not.  We are ALL dependent on food for our survival, so let’s remember that when tempted to judge (and judge wrongfully).

  • Tabbamama

    I think you’re wrong. Each cat is an individwn voice, thoughts and experiences.ual with their I

    with their own individual vouce, thoughts and needs.
    They’re not like babies unless they’re kittens.
    Often the pur is when they are feeling happy and content.
    My cat does not use purr to call for food. She will just sit and stare

  • Jblair645

    I have two cats; and they seek food very differently.  One will follow me a round and scream at me.  The other, will patiently wait in the kitchen on a rug and meow her request.  They both know how to manipulate me in different ways. 

  • mOE

    As a non-pet owner, allergies but play w’em at my peril every chance I get, that 1st purr got the kid, sounded like the poor thing was having an anxiety attack. The second purr was ok. Regardless luv’em all, wheezing, be damned :D

  • sunfell

    Odd- my Meezer makes that ‘solicitation’ sound a lot- I call it his ‘tribble-purr’. He never begs with it- it’s his “OMG, you haven’t cuddled me for TEN HOURS!!!” sound that he makes while burying his head in the crook of my elbow. He also has a cute way of puttering out- he ‘runs out of purr’. 

    I don’t mind being ‘cat-staff’. They make my quiet house a true home.

  • Firestorm

    What the… I don’t remember my cat making any noise resembling the solicitation purr.

  • DLW

    I have several cats and they are all free fed, so their purring has little if nothing to do with food. My “neediest,” most affection-seeking cats purr like this while they are being petted. It’s like a very enthusiastic form of purring, and to me it connotes affection, not unpleasantness. 

  • Dusty

    We always called that solicitation purr a “honk” – our cat would do it if we had something she wanted (like a toy or a treat), but if she was hungry, she’d just sit by her bowl (if we were already in the kitchen) or meow loudly until someone came and fed her. Since she was usually fed in the morning, she was also very good at standing on us or knocking things off the nightstands to get attention.

  • darla_der

    My cats absolutely do this, the “ragged” purr when they want food. Sometimes I am distracted and don’t clue in right away, and think, “Wow – they really want love!” But then it is clear they want food, and I feel kind of sheepish for misinterpreting the intensity of their purr (and usually accompanied by nuzzling, etc.). Yes, they know how to get me to do something for them.

  • cleamounette

    Cats would like to rule everything..but cats are very fareful…
    Tigers & lions have better arguments…

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