A new study in the journal Current Biology looks at how cats manipulate us. University of Sussex psychologist Karen McComb, an expert in animal communications, identified how cats add an urgent, whining meow to their normal purr to get what they want. From a press release:
"The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response," said Karen McComb of the University of Sussex. "Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom." She suggests that this form of cat communication sends a subliminal sort of message, tapping into an inherent sensitivity that humans and other mammals have to cues relevant in the context of nurturing their offspring..."House cats know what they want and how to get it from you"
McComb said she thinks this cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring, "but we think that cats learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans."