Like humans, cats can form secure or insecure relationships with caregivers
A study looking at how kittens react when separated from and then reunited with their owners shows that, far from being aloof, cats develop a bond with their owners much as human infants attach to their parents.
Studies looking at how infants react when separated from and reunited with their parents have shown that 65% demonstrate a secure bond with their caregivers. In a study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, 70 cats or kittens in an unfamiliar environment were separated from their owners for two minutes and then reunited—64% demonstrated a secure bond, approaching their owner immediately and showing affection.
In infancy, we humans develop a given attachment style based on childhood experiences with our parents or caregivers. According to theory, that style affects our ability to form relationships in adulthood. Those with a secure attachment style tend to have been raised by parents who provided them emotional support and were reliable, and so as children they didn’t experience distress when separated from their parents. That feeling of security tends to follow people into adulthood throughout their relationships and friendships and prevents the development of separation anxiety.
The kittens with insecure bonds displayed anxious or avoidant attachment styles. Anxious kittens also approached their owner immediately and were affectionate, but unlike secure kittens, they clung to their owners, unable to focus on anything else. Adults with an anxious attachment style frequently experience separation anxiety and fear of abandonment in their adult relationships if their parents were absent, abusive, or unreliable throughout childhood.
Some with poor relationships with their parents may develop an avoidant style instead, at times becoming distant with people to stay in control and ensure the other won’t reject them first, or to create the impression that solitude doesn’t bother them. Like humans with this style, some kittens ignored their owner after their return, though they eventually approached them later on.