How Your Pet Controls Your Mind

They don’t actually like you, they just know exactly how to make you think that they do
How Your Pet Controls Your Mind

It’s a universal law of basic decency: If a cat sits on you, you do not move until the cat does. Violating this rule under anything but the most dire of circumstances (a fire, a radio station giveaway, an awkward boner) earns you unquestioned passage into monsterhood. Do you think the cat doesn’t know that

Okay, it probably doesn’t. It’s a stupid little lump of fur and contempt that probably isn’t deliberately trying to make you late for work, but it totally would if it could. The whole reason we started feeding cats and letting them into our homes is because, by several accidents of evolution, they look like adorable little babies. They’re a bunch of Willem Dafoes in Olsen twins bodies, and you bet your ass they’ve figured out how to make that work for them.

For example, did you know that adult cats don’t meow in the wild? Baby lions and cheetahs and whatnot meow to let their moms know they’re cold or hungry, but adult cats can take care of themselves, so they don’t lower themselves to such childish behavior. Even domesticated cats don’t really meow at other cats. It’s purely for our benefit because their meows have the same effect on our brains as an infant’s cry, urging us to feed this thing or otherwise figure out what it needs. No, your cat isn’t “talking” to you — the research is pretty clear that your cat doesn’t give a shit about you. You’re just its sugar daddy, so it’s hitting you with that baby talk to get you to buy it dinner.

That’s not the only way that piece of shit manipulates your caregiving instinct either. Cats have gone so far as to develop a specific purr with the sole purpose of annoying you into action. Cats purr for all kinds of reasons, but there’s a high-frequency vocalization embedded in the “solicitation purr” that also triggers your “baby-crying” system when they’re presumably too lazy to meow. It’s much less common in multi-cat households because they figure you can’t hear them, so it’s entirely for you. Again, it’s not because it loves you and likes it when you pet it — it doesn’t, and it doesn’t. Cats that live with lots of other cats actually have lower stress levels because you’re not petting them all the time. It’s just its way of saying, “Feed me, you cuck.”

This is part of the reason for the “crazy cat lady” stereotype. Women respond particularly strongly to cats for reasons that aren’t well-known but probably relate to them looking like shmoopy little baby-poos. Then, of course, there’s the parasite cats carry that literally makes some people crazy. It changes your brain and body in all kinds of ways, including by making you more neurotic and less coordinated. In other words, a crazy cat lady.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Boy, I sure am glad my best boy, Billy Corgi, is nothing like those asshole cats,” call that chonker over to lick the smug grin off your face, because if anything, dogs are even more manipulative. Their faces have evolved to look cuter to us, developing a muscle that wolves don’t have that enables them to raise their brows higher and widen their eyes more. Boom, puppy-dog eyes.

That’s likely just as much a result of human interference as anything else — obviously, we’re going to breed more of the dogs that make us squeal until only they can hear us — but they haven’t not noticed. Dogs use that muscle a lot more when they know we’re looking at them. This also isn’t because they love you (although they actually do) and they’re excited to see you — they don’t make the same faces in similarly exciting situations (e.g., treats). They’re doing this on purpose. They also stick out their tongues and vocalize more when they know they’re being observed by humans, turning themselves into doofy little wigglebutts because they know it gets a response from us. It’s heart-melting just thinking about it. See? It’s working!

Here’s where it gets really insidious. Unlike cats — again, whose machinations don’t really go much further than “cry like baby, get food” — dogs can and will lie to you. In one experiment, researchers set up three boxes, one of which had a sausage, one of which had a “non-preferred food item” (probably some kind of vegan bullshit) and one of which was empty, and directed dogs to lead one of two humans to the box with the sausage. The catch is that one of the humans always gave them the sausage, while the other never did. Within a day, the dogs started leading the withholding jerk to the empty box so they’d still have a shot at that sausage with their buddy later. The study was inspired by the lead researcher wondering whether her own dogs were intentionally pretending to pee so they could get treats, the answer to which seems obvious, but scientists aren’t big fans of assumptions.

So it really doesn’t matter which direction you go when it comes to large, furry companionship. Whether you chose the cat or dog life, what you actually chose was the “relegation to the mercy of adorable faces and voices with few concerns outside of snoozing and treats” life. 

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