60-Second Science

Cat Call Coerces Can Opening

A study in the journal Current Biology finds that some cat purrs include a high-frequency plaintive component that gets people to do cats' bidding. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Anyone who’s ever had a cat knows how demanding they can be. Let me out, let me in, give me food, give me different food. The list goes on. But how do these clever kitties convince us to do their bidding? A study in the July 14 issue of Current Biology suggests it’s all in how they ask.

Karen McComb of the University of Sussex started studying persuasive cat calls after realizing that her own pet used a hybrid between a purr and a cry to get her out of bed in the morning. McComb got recordings of other cat calls. And back in the lab, she found that humans thought purrs made by cats who were trying to solicit a snack were more urgent, and less pleasant, than those made when kitty was, say, relaxing on the sofa.

Turns out that the "feed me" purr includes a high-frequency component, absent from the contented purr, that makes people want to reach for a can opener just to make Fluffy stop. It’s obviously part of “Fluffy’s Master Plan (song) for World Domination.”

—Karen Hopkin

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