Woman smiling and holding her pet cat as it licks her nose

How Deep is Your Love? Cal State East Bay lecturer teams up with alumna to explore attachment to cats and our romantic partners

  • BY Kimberly Hawkins
  • March 13, 2024

Once you head outside, it typically takes only a few steps before you encounter a dog and its human caretakers — taking a walk, playing at the park or sharing a table at Starbucks. You can see how they interact with one another. But, cats are a different story. Often, the bond between humans and these animals is unseen unless you are invited into someone’s sacred space to discover the nuanced relationships between cats and their companions. 

That’s where Cal State East Bay Lecturer of Psychology Gretchen Reevy comes in. Her interest and research is personal.

“I find my cat, Max, and the other cats I have had in my life, very comforting,” said Reevy. “I can often become de-stressed by just a few minutes of cuddling with Max. I am also fascinated by their behavior and apparent emotional expressions and compare these things to people’s behavior and emotions.”

While studies on dogs abound, those focused on cats are less abundant. 

“There is a lot more research on the relationship between dogs and humans than between cats and humans,” said Mikel Delgado, Cal State East Bay alumna and animal behavior scientist. “Dogs have been domesticated for a longer period, and also were domesticated for different reasons than cats, so it follows that our relationship with each type of pet could be different.”

In a recent study, Reevy and Delgado set out to explore people’s attachment to romantic partners and pet cats.  

“Our participants generally had positive, secure attachments to both their partners and their cats,” said Reevy. “Most people felt comfortable being close with both partners and cats, didn’t feel or worry about rejection from either and sought comfort from both. Differences were a greater tendency to feel distress when the partner was unavailable compared to the cat being unavailable and needing more reassurance from the partner about love.”

Reevy said she loved learning that there are a lot of people who talk to their cats. The study found that while people often told their partners about their problems and concerns, there were also plenty of people who talked to their cats about them.

“I often end up thinking that humans and cats are very similar,” said Reevy. “A cat reminds me of a child in the four to eight-year-old range, I think. Cats are unabashedly self-interested, as I sometimes wish I could still be, yet are loving and even caring sometimes.” This might explain the results showing how much people turn to their purr-fect partners, both human and cat.