Cats, Dogs, and Applied Metaphors

I had this thought about a week ago and every day since then, I’ve written it down on my list to NOM about it.. but I never found the time.

Mainly, because, in between, I had to finish semester grading, chainsaw up and move 10,000 lbs of wood, install two different garden sections and build  and plant 3 garden boxes.

Oh.. and I got older.  Today, I’m 14612 days old.  A couple of days ago was somewhat significant if your into counting that whole “trips around the sun” thing.  I think sunrises (or sunsets) is just as valid a way of seeing it..

In any case, the thought I had came to me as I was watching our cats interact with our 5 new kittens.  I should say–the kittens aren’t entirely new.. they’re now about 7.5 weeks old, but we cohabitate with two other cats besides the kittens’ mother, and they are doing the normal cat thing of dealing with new cats… and small insane ones at that.

Mogwai exposing her real personality

I keeeel YOU!

Watching my other cats communicate with the kittens–namely through ignoring, hisses, growls, and the occasional clawless swatting  to get the kittens to not jump on them or do their crazy kitten antics–it struck me that cats, on both social and individual levels, tend to act like introverted humans.  I’ve spoken about introversion and extraversion before–in particular in two posts that were written about a year ago–and I do find that the difference between the two aspects of human personality do seem helpful in explaining our behavior as hairless apes.

However, what about in different species?

Well, the introversion and extraversion difference seems to primarily come down to the level of stimulation that different individuals find acceptable.  Introverts have a much lower threshold for what they consider excessive stimulation–whether auditory or visually–and thus, they tend to find social situations draining and need time alone to recharge.

Before going any further, I know all the caveats about applying personality constructs that are only partially confirmed or based in science upon entirely different species, but I did want to go with the thought for a bit to see what might come up..  In this way, it doesn’t seem (and didn’t seem strange to any of my friends) to describe cats as basically introverts, at least as a default mode of interaction.  Most Cats do not naturally congregate in large groups.. they do not like (or make) large amount of noise or visual stimulation, and they tend to approach other cats and also hairless apes in a 1 on 1 manner.  Furthermore, it takes a long time to develop a relationship with a cat–they usually don’t just bond immediately with anyone and they tend to watch and observe people a long time before they open up to them or consider them safe.

All of these things tend to be true of introverted humans also.  Now.. it is a whole ‘nother bag of worms to begin talking about what it would mean for a cat to be “introverted” when the entire species (or even genera, for that matter) seems to be that way.

However–there is the natural contrast to felines in the form of canines.  Dogs and Cats have long been used as kinds of antonyms and the latest genetics work on carnivores show that the split between them goes way, way back to early on in the order of carnivores. In any case, canines are very different animals than cats–they are almost all very social animals that live in groups or packs.  They also have very different greeting reactions towards other members of their species–namely the proverbial initial butt-sniffing that is so commonplace amongst them.

It’s not hard to see that one could easily see the default for Dogs would be extraversion. It also wouldn’t hurt to notice that dogs are far louder than cats are in almost every way… that they communicate continuously with their surroundings (and especially other dogs) with their barking whenever they can.  Cats, on the other hand, just tend to stare at other cats unless they are males getting into a territorial dispute.

In any case–the questions I have are twofold:

a) Are these different behavioral patterns connected, in any serious way, to different sensory capacities?

b) Does this idea of applied metaphors work for other kinds of mammals–and if the link to sensory capacities exists (in whatever form), does it behave similarly across species?

My general guess is that any link to sensory capacities would be pretty weak if existent at all.  In humans, there’s no link between introversion and sensory acuity at all in any of the literature that I’ve found–although there is some evidence that introverts are more visually vigilant than extraverts in certain tests–but that’s more of an issue of concentration than of perception.

Still, one could compare the different sensory tools that cats and dogs have and see if they  told us anything.  Dogs, by far, rely on sense of smell WAY MORE than cats do.  Dogs have something on the order of 200 million smell receptors, whereas cats only have about 19 million. (Puny humans only have 5 million, I would note..).  Cats hearing, on the other hand, is far superior to dogs–both in that they can hear a higher range of sounds than either dogs or humans, they can hear things at far greater distances, and they can locate the origins of sounds with far more accuracy.  In terms of vision, Cats seem to be generally superior to dogs in a number of ways, although not by as much as it is in hearing.

Now–what does this all mean?  Well–I’m not sure.  One could argue that cats, overall, have more acute senses when it coms to what we normally consider to be the elements of “overstimulation”–namely sight and sound–but then again–why might that also not include scent?  Things, obviously, can smell REALLY bad–and, especially for social critters, having a highly developed sense of smell might seem to be pretty much of a curse.  In reality, however, dogs use the different scents to communicate to each other–so  it seems more like the senses have been adapted to the extraverted character rather than the other way around here.

Anyway–this is obviously not a complete thought–but more of an ongoing discussion in my head–but it was what I was thinking recently–and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot it!


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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2 Responses to Cats, Dogs, and Applied Metaphors

  1. Jenni B says:

    you know that kitten looks like a Binturong, right?

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