Habituation of the threatening response in cats and kittens

Short Synopsis: Researchers put kittens and cats in cages and then walked a docile dog past them. They did this several times and measured how the kittens/cats responded over time to see if their responses got more or less dramatic (ie, did they get used to the dog or did they get more scared?)

From the abstract: “Six out of 7 kittens displayed a threatening response when confronted by the dog for the 1st time, but there was a wide variety in the intensity of the response. Responses waned with repetition, and complete habituation of the response in the kittens was achieved after 4–25 daily sessions. Three of the 6 adult cats had low level or no response to initial confrontation, but all showed an initial increment of sensitization. Habituation occurred in 2–47 sessions.”

In other words, it took between 2 and 47 times trials for the cats to get used to the dog. Some of the cats got worse before they got better (known as sensitization).

Authors: Zbrozyna, A. W.

Publication: Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis, 43(3), 183-192.

Publication Date: 1983

Applies To: dog/cat intros, sensitization vs habituation vs desensitization

Sample Size: 13

Limitations/Drawbacks: Small sample size, old study, doesn’t really pertain to “real” dog-cat intros

Link: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1984-19643-001

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