Box Proclivity in Cats: Testing the IGNORE (Intention Gratification Negation Of Realization and Expense) Theory
It is well documented that the domestic cat, Felis sylvestris catus, exhibits a near-magnetic attraction to boxes (Maru, 2009). Other species of cat, including tigers, lions and leopards, have been known to sit, sleep and play in boxes (Big Cat Rescue, 2013). Among cats, this proclivity, or tendency to choose something regularly, can be so pronounced that boxes have been used on occasion to collect cats for petting and snuggling (Cheezburger, 2013).
In attempts to understand this common feline behavior, recent studies have observed cats in their habitats, providing a wide array of hypotheses. In Life with Dogs and Cats, Susan C. Willett (2014) outlined 18 reasons why cats love boxes. A summary of recent thinking (Gardiner, 2015) appeared in Wired magazine, including an overview of research on shelter cats and boxes published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior (Vinke, 2014).
However, few studies have examined the type of boxes preferred by cats. Most specifically, what factors affect how likely a cat is to occupy a particular box. In particular, there is not much literature exploring how the amount paid for the box (free versus purchased) or the intention of the box (used for shipping, storage, or designed specifically for Felis catus).
It has been hypothesized that a cat’s box attraction — using the familiar Scratch, Claw and Tooth (SCAT) scale — is inversely proportional to the cost. In addition, there may be a similar behavior pattern relating to the intention of the containment unit. In other words, the more a human paid for the box or the more the box was intended to be used for cats, the less likely the cat would use it. This is known as the Intention Gratifcation Negation Of Realization and Expense (IGNORE) Theory.
We performed a series of experiments using boxes provided by several vendors (all free, used for product delivery), and a box provided by Famous OTO in the shape of cat-themed ice cream truck.
The initial exercise took place in a residential home on a day when the humans were extremely busy (cooking for a large family gathering) and the feline inhabitants were exhibiting undesirable Hiss-Swat-Chase behaviors.
Results are documented in the following photos.
Subject #1 (Elsa Clair) was attracted to the ice cream truck box even before it was assembled.
Subject #2 (Calvin) claimed the shipping box, even though it had no sides. The behavior of Subjects #1 and #2 indicate a future area of research: exploring the essence of “boxness:” what defines a box to a cat. Characteristics to investigate include materials (cardboard, wicker, plastic, wood), walls (existence or absence, height), shape (rectangular, circular), and relative comfort of the floor (soft, hard).
During assembly of the ice cream truck box, three of the household cats expressed interest. Subject #1 jumped into the box prior to completion.
Once Subject #1 vacated the box, Subject #2 entered it.
Observers noted that Subject #2 spent 23 minutes in the ice cream truck box.
He explored all the windows.
Upon leaving the ice cream truck box, Subject #2 “stood guard” outside it for an additional 14 minutes, discouraging the other cats from coming near him, or the box.
The barking of dogs distracted Subject #2, who proceeded to hide under the couch, whereupon Subject #3 (Athena) took residence in the ice cream truck box.
After the initial test session, the ice cream truck box was moved to an area that contained several boxes. Subjects were allowed to choose any box to occupy.
Subject #1 spent time in the other boxes — including one with crinkle paper — yet seemed to prefer sitting in the ice cream truck box.
The average time Subject #1 spent in the ice cream truck box was 1.73 times the amount spent in the delivery boxes.
The cats in the study not only entered the box designed for them, but actually liked it a lot, as evidenced by the guarding and hissing behaviors and the amount of time spent in the ice cream truck box as compared with the control boxes. When offered a choice between standard, free, delivery boxes and the OTO ice cream truck box, one cat (Subject #1) spent more time in the truck. However, the results are inconclusive because:
1) the ice cream truck box was new, and our study did not account for the Novelty Factor
2) there was some evidence that the box box (the box that the ice cream truck was delivered in) was as exciting as the product itself
2) Famous OTO provided the ice cream truck box for free, and it’s possible that, because actual payment did not occur, it may have skewed the outcome because there was no cash outlay
4) the test group accounted for only 75% of the resident cats, which may not have been enough of a sample.
It is recommended that further testing be done to adequately understand the IGNORE theory. We will continue with this line of inquiry as we look to learn more about cats and boxes.
What’s your theory? Why do you think cats love boxes?
NOTE: I was not paid to write this story; I was provided one free ice cream truck box for my cats to enjoy.
- Cats and Boxes: It Never Gets Old
- 18 Reasons Cats Love Boxes
- For Cats, Moving Into a New Box Can Be Stressful
- Every Day is Boxing Day When You’re a Cat
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