If you’ve ever heard your cat making a strange meowing sound while purring, you’re not alone. Experts say many domesticated kitties practice this (annoying) behavior to not only get our attention, but to also get something they want — usually food.
Research published in Current Biology suggests that these crafty cats have come up with a clever way to get us to fill their food bowls as soon as possible. They do this by making a very specific noise that humans find particularly tough to ignore.
“The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response,” said lead researcher Karen McComb, PhD, in a press release. “Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom.”
In a series of experiments, researchers asked cat owners to record their own pet kitties’ purring and crying sounds. Then, researchers conducted a series of playbacks with other participants, some of whom had never owned a cat. As it turned out, the people judged the signature sounds that kitties made while craving food to be the most urgent and also the most unpleasant kind of sounds. (This was even true for the folks who’ve never had a cat.) However, when the researchers removed the sound of the cry in the recording while leaving the sound of the simple purr, humans found it far less urgent.
“We found that the crucial factor determining the urgency and pleasantness ratings that purrs received was an unusual high-frequency element — reminiscent of a cry or meow — embedded within the naturally low-pitched purr,” said Dr. McComb.
McComb believes a low cry may happen naturally in a normal purr from a cat, but not to the same level as it does when the feline wants food. As she put it: “We think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans.”
Why are we not surprised?
Next, check out some adorable two-faced cats that’ll make you do a double-take in the video below: