Left-pawed or right-pawed: The camp your cat falls into is probably determined by its gender
Psychologists Deborah Wells and Sarah Millsopp of Queen's University Belfast tested 42 house cats -- 21 males and 21 females -- to determine whether they favored their right or left paws when performing tasks of varying difficulty. Their report on the results has been accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behavior.
They tested the cats using three scenarios. In the first, and most complex, they placed delicious tuna in a narrow-mouthed jar. In the second, they dangled a toy mouse over the cats' heads, and in the third, they dragged the toy mouse across the ground in front of the cats. Each of the three tests was repeated 100 times for each cat.
In the toy-mouse tests, which required less intricate movements than the jar test, both male and female cats seemed to use either paw interchangeably. But in the more complex jar test, Wells and Millsopp noted an interesting trend. Male cats overwhelmingly used their left paws to try to scoop out the tuna snack (only one of the 21 seemed to be ambidextrous), while 20 of the 21 females almost always used their right paw for the task.
Their findings with cats mimics humans' use of their hands, according to the New Scientist -- for instance, most humans can use either hand to complete simple tasks like opening a door, but favor one hand over the other for tasks requiring precision, like writing. The study also mimics human hand usage in another way: although the vast majority of humans are right-handed, men are statistically much more likely than women to be left-handed. One theory on human "handedness" suggests that left-handed people were exposed to higher levels of testosterone than right-handed people while in the womb.
National Geographic reports that, like humans and cats, dogs' paw preferences also tend to split down gender lines -- but, interestingly, only if the dogs are not spayed or neutered. Unneutered dogs tend to favor their left paws, while unspayed females opt for their right. But researchers saw no discernible difference in paw choice between neutered male dogs and female dogs.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: Alexander Natruskin / Reuters