One of our cats is sitting directly behind me as I type this, screaming at the back of my head for reasons that only he knows. When he’s bored with that, he’ll stalk our other cat like prey while she tries to use the litter box. He regularly makes guests uncomfortable with prolonged, almost alien eye contact. He is undoubtedly a demon, but according to the findings in a recently published study, he may also meet the description of a cat psychopath.
A team of researchers at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK devised a survey for cat owners to find out if the hellions living with them fit the bill for cat psychopathy. They wrote a survey that includes questions like ”My cat vocalises loudly (e.g. meows, yowls) for no apparent reason,” “My cat runs around the house for no apparent reason,” and “My cat does not appear to act guilty after misbehaving.” The researchers published the survey for cat owners to take online, here.
The researchers used the answers to these questions given by 549 cat owners who completed the survey to create a new criteria for psychopathy in cats. They started with the “triarchic” concept of psychopathy, where levels of boldness, meanness, and disinhibition have been used to measure psychopathy in humans. These three traits also emerged as factors that lead toward a psychopathic cat, the researchers wrote, but two more factors also arose: human-unfriendliness and pet-unfriendliness. They named this new method of measuring psychopathic cats the Cat Triarchic Plus (CAT-Tri+).
“Our cats and the differences in their personalities inspired us to start this research,” Rebecca Evans, one of the researchers on the study, told Motherboard. “Personally, I am also interested in how owner perceptions of psychopathy in their cat can affect the cat-owner relationship. My cat (Gumball) scores relatively highly on the disinhibition scale—which means he can be quite vocal, proximity-seeking and excitable!”
Minna Lyons, another of the study’s authors, told Motherboard that they are all “crazy cat ladies” who among them study primates, rodents, and psychopathy in humans. “We decided to join our forces, and see if psychopathy is something that is relevant in our feline friends too,” she said. “My personal inspiration is my cat Axel, a fluffy and greedy little creature.” Axel participated in a part of the study that assigned activity trackers to some cats, to watch how they move about their days. “Axel is totally bold, and known to go into neighbors houses, cars, and garages to search for food,” Lyons said—a sign of a feline psychopath.
All of this sounds like normal cat stuff, which the researchers told me may just be the case; it’s likely that all cats have an element of psychopathy, as humans understand it, they said, as these traits make good sense for their wild ancestors whose main goals were securing food, territory, and mates. They don’t make a lot of sense in a small Brooklyn apartment where kibbles are doled out on a schedule, so to us, zooming up walls and body slamming other pets seems unhinged.