"It turns out," lead researcher Alissa Grady, PhD, said, "that cats aren't just assholes—it's a fundamental feature of their brain to want to shed on your work pants."
Grady and her lab first restrained dozens of house cats of varying colors and breeds so they could hook them to brain imaging systems.
"The subjects really struggled," their study, published in Goddamnit, Nature, notes.
Control subjects were shown neutral images of blank walls and human faces to simulate the cats' typical visual environment. (Interestingly, the cats generally ignored the facial pictures, most opting to nap instead.)
Study cats were shown an array of objects and colors—toy and real mice, house spiders, different colors of cloth, those plastic balls with bells in them. A significant portion of the felines exhibited no reaction whatsoever to the items, the so-called "dispassion" portion of their brains exploding with activity. But when the cats did react to stimuli, it was only when shown dark clothing. Reds, yellows, and whites were overwhelmingly ignored while navies, blacks, browns and other work-appropriate wear excited the cats' "attraction center"—also theorized to be involved in knocking stuff down off counters.
"Cats are only somewhat colorblind," Grady remarked, "so this seems to have more to do with shade than color."
Further research is needed to determine whether cats' subsequent behavior—rubbing, shedding and pawing on the cloth—is a voluntary action, a response to emotional triggers or some kind of inborn jerk reflex.
"Anecdotally, some cats showed elevated levels of oxytocin [a hormone related to bonding] during blood testing. But to really pinpoint what caused that spike is beyond the purposes of this study," Grady said.