Tuesday, 14 Jul, 2009 Science

Cats Use their Purr to Exploit Humans


It seems that cats throughout history were able to manipulate humans. Scientists at the University of Sussex found that by using their "soliciting purr", cats can make owners focus more attention on them. The soliciting purr is not like the usual one - its sound resembles the "cry" of a human baby. Researchers believe that the sound makes it difficult for people to ignore the animal.

According to the lead researcher Dr Karen McComb, the study was inspired by the scientist's own cat that used to wake her up early in the morning with its insistent purr. "After a little bit of investigation, I discovered that there are other cat owners who are similarly bombarded early in the morning," she said.

With the goal of discovering why the soliciting purr makes cat owners want to fill their animal's bowl, scientists asked cat owners to record the vocal tactics of their pets, including their usual and soliciting purrs. "When we played the recordings to human volunteers, even those people with no experience of cats found the soliciting purrs more urgent and less pleasant," said the lead researcher. The team then asked volunteers to rate the purrs according to how urgent and pleasant they considered it was. Purrs that were hard to ignore had a high-frequency sound, reports BBC.

"When an animal vocalises, the vocal folds (or cords) held across the stream of air snap shut at a particular frequency," said Dr McComb. The pitch of the sound that a person perceives depends on its size, length, as well as tension of the vocal folds. Besides a high-pitched purr, cats can also produce a low-pitch one and due to the fact that a different mechanism is used to create each sound, cats can regulate their high-pitched purr in a way to make it sound more relaxing. "How urgent and unpleasant the purr is seems to depend on how much energy the cat puts into producing that cry," explained Dr McComb. She mentioned that the soliciting purr resembles a baby's cry and when cats notice a response from humans on their cry, they attempt to highly exaggerate it.

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