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How Depressive Moods Affect the Behavior of Singly Living Persons toward their Cats

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This study investigated how depressive feelings affect the behavior of singly living persons toward their cats. Data from 47 women and 49 men, who were visited at home for one two-hour observation session, were used for the analyses. Just prior to and after the observations, participants filled out a standard questionnaire used to assess momentary mood (EWL). The mood was assigned to one of 14 sub-scales, one of which was "depressiveness." Identical questionnaires were later completed by the same subjects in the absence of the observer (43 women, 45 men), and these results compared with those of questionnaires sent to singly living, former cat owners (28 women, three men). Five behavior elements were found to be affected by depressiveness: 1) intents to interact, 2) the starting of interactions, 3) intents, where the partner is willing to comply and interacts, and 4) head- and flank-rubbing by the cat (using multiple regression, Mann-Whitney U tests and Spearman rank correlations). Results show that the more a person was depressive, the fewer intents to interact were shown. However, the more a person was depressive, the more (s)he started an interaction. This means that depressive persons had an initial inhibition to initiate that was compensated by the presence of the cat. People who felt less depressive after the two hours of the study, owned cats that were more willing to comply with their intents than those whose depressiveness stayed the same or became worse. In human-cat dyads in which the person became more depressive, the person's willingness to comply tended to correlate positively with the cat's willingness to comply. When not in close contact, the cat reacted the same way to all mood scales of the humans. This neutral attitude makes the cat an attractive pacemaker against an inhibition to initiate. Within an interaction the cat is affected by the mood. But only the willingness of the cat to comply seems to be responsible for reducing depressiveness. Female cat owners were also found to be less depressed than former owners.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279399787000066

Publication date: December 1, 1999

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