'Cry embedded in a purr' exploits human psyche, researchers say,,,,
MONDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- It's 6 a.m. Your cat has jumped up on the bed and, as he does every morning, lets out a mix of low purr and plaintive cry. The message is irresistible: Get up now and feed me.
A new British study -- involving participants with names like Fuzzy, Marbles and Socks -- suggests that smart housecats quickly learn that this particular cry-purr combination is the most effective in getting bleary-eyed humans to do their bidding.
"Remember, these cats have years to train up their owners," said study author Karen McComb, a specialist in animal vocal communication in the department of psychology at the University of Sussex. "They learn to dramatically exaggerate this cry embedded within the purr because it proves effective in getting their owner to respond."
The study suggests that Felis catus domesticus has a richer vocabulary than the standard "meow," and modulates its vocalizations to express contentment (purr), alarm (shrieking meow) or insistent persuasion (the cry-purr).
"They are trying to communicate," said one expert, Dr. Tony Buffington, professor of veterinary clinical services at Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital, Columbus. He called the study, "a wonderful idea to follow-up on -- it's going to open up a lot more understanding of cats in general."
The idea for the study, published in the July 14 issue of Current Biology, came from McComb's own cat, Pepo.
"He consistently woke me up in the morning with a very insistent purr; it was very difficult to ignore. And he continued until he was fed," she said. Although McComb's prior work had centered on animals as exotic as the elephant or lion, it got her to thinking -- why was this particular vocalization so compelling? "I wanted to get to the bottom of it."
She quickly found out that domestic cats o
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