Kittens and Babies Share the Same Bond with Their Caregivers

We all love kittens when they’re small. They’re just cute and cuddly while they’re still growing up, and they share a pretty strong bond with their humans when they’re so young. Have you noticed how attached kittens are to you when they grow up? Tabby cat kittens exhibit this behavior just like any breed and one psychologist in the 60s, Mary Ainsworth, aimed to get to the bottom of this behavior.

She invented the so-called Strange Situation technique which used a test to sort children into categories. It involved a test where an infant is temporarily separated from its mother in a room full of toys. Some babies cried because of their parents’ absence – these were put in the group of ‘securely attached’ kids.

Those placed in the ‘insecurely attached’ category were either ‘ambivalent’ (clingy and anxious) or ‘avoidant’ (indifferent to the parents upon their return). Ainsworth’s study showed that most children (over 60%) are very attached to their caregivers. Surprisingly, the same model was observed in new born kittens.

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Are Kittens Just Like Babies?

Most people believe that cats want to be alone. And they do, except that in times of stress, they see their owner as a source of security. Playful kittens attached to their caregivers was the base of a recent study did by Kristyn Vitale. An animal psychologist at Oregon State University, Vitale discovered that kittens are just as attached to their caregivers as babies.

Vitale did a study that used Ainsworth’s original model. She added a third test to see how children (this time kittens) react to the presence of a stranger. The little kittens were left alone in a room with their caregivers for 2 minutes before leaving for 2 minutes and returning for a reunion.

Just like Ainsworth’s study, kittens fell into different categories. Some were securely attached to their caregivers, some were ambivalent, and others were avoidant. Although this was a small-scale study, it shows that kittens bonding with humans is not an imaginary concept. As a matter of fact, felines do bond with their caregivers, and it’s a bond that’s pretty strong.  Interestingly, some kittens fell into a new category – disorganized. This is a fourth category added to the test by Ainsworth’s grad student Mary Main. The category is for humans or animals who are torn between approaching their caregivers or snubbing them upon return. Kittens in this category seemed indecisive.

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How Do Kittens Bond with Humans?

Vitale says that we still don’t know how kittens secure their attachment to their caregivers. It seems stable over time, though. After a six-week kindergarten with daily and weekly socialization trainings with their owners, 80% of kittens showed the same attachment to people the first time around. This means that kittens have this behavior ‘written’ into their DNA and their personality.

Of course, one must take into account environmental influences as well. Trauma, for example, can reshape a kitten’s bond with its caregiver. We should be open to the idea that there are many variables in play.

What Did Ainsworth’s Study Show?

When it comes to Ainsworth’s study, many experts found it to be too artificial. For example, some believed that it was based on too homogenous populations of middle-class Americans for it to be accurate.

Still, the study was groundbreaking in the field of attachment theory. It also shows that kittens are not as asocial as everyone believes. As a matter of fact, they are pretty attached to owners. Just like babies, they feel secure in the presence of their caregivers and this sheds a different light on their personality.