Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cats should be seen and not herded

There was clamouring and vociferation from the readership for more crap science in topics that no-one cares about. So with much fanfare we bring you Potter and Mills (2015):
The Ainsworth "Strange situation" there in the Abstract is not that time you woke up to find yourself in a bathtub full of brightly-painted machine tools. It is carefully choreographed to induce controlled levels of stress and anxiety in the subject (a toddler) and trigger the special security-seeking behaviours of infant/parent attachment, so that the nature of the dyadic relationship can be categorised. Attachment psychologists get away with this because SCIENCE; also we wear white lab-coats and we intone "The experiment requires that you continue" if the mother or father looks to be having second thoughts.

The system for scoring behaviours in the SS is grounded in ethology, and applies only to small helpless bald apes... the theory behind it is that attachment patterns are strategies for maximising the likelihood of the small helpless bald ape growing into a large, less helpless but equally annoying adult bald ape. The classification into Anxious-Avoidant, Secure, or Anxious-Resistant styles of infant attachment may or may not predict how the subjects react in later life, when talking-heads on the Televish tell them that dutiful citizens should be fearful, should accept minor restrictions of liberty, and should inform on their neighbours; I could not possibly comment.

The study is a response to Edwards et al. (2007), "Experimental evaluation of attachment behaviors in owned cats", which study was itself inspired by 1998 work on dogs. Mills was promoting it back in 2013 but it takes a while to herd recruit 20 cat/human dyads. Our own study at the Riddled Research Laboratory, into "Experimental Evaluation of Attachment in Pet Giraffes", is similarly taking longer than expected to reach fruition.

Previous research beginning with Maloney et al. has shown that the optimal situations for inducing controlled levels of anxiety and stress in cats are in fact photographs of bearded men. The authors did not cite any of this body of work so frankly I am surprised that the PLoS reviewers accepted the manuscript. The omission will certainly cost them their chance of winning an Ignobel.
No stress induction
among infant chickens
Anyway, Potter and Mills conclude that domesticated cats do not exhibit a Secure attachment style (contra Edwards et al.). Their results could alternatively be interpreted as showing that domesticated cats are not human infants.

There are simpler tests for this.

This part warrants special applause:
Two cat subjects (1 male neutered, 6 years old, 1 female neutered 2 years old) hid during an entire experimental testing period and were therefore removed from the data analysis.
"Attachment theory" should not be confused with the vogue for "attachment parenting", in which fluffy psychobabblers shift the ansxiety and inadquacy to parents and go on about 'attachment' as if it is a commodity that dutiful mothers should buy in bulk off the shelf along with baby monitors and cognitive-stimulation music compilations. The fact that people are out there using 'parent' as a verb is yet another symptom of cultural desuetude.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

That is the deal we make with the kittehs- we provide them with service, and they provide us with the opportunity to serve.

Smut Clyde said...

See that's the deal we made. Just to join the Mouser Cult.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

And then there's the dealio with the pigs.

tigris said...

Helpful, but needed more cat pictures.