When cats spend long periods of time under furniture, in distant bedrooms or simply out of sight, it is helpful to distinguish between a learned preference for such places and hiding behavior. Unlike "nesting" in dark places, hiding is related to anxiety or fear.
Cats' personalities vary, and one of the more common personality types encountered is the timid cat. Timidity may not be noticeable day-to-day, but is easily seen when a visitor, or even new living room furniture, arrives.
The best way to deal with a timid cat who otherwise acts content is to let him hide; it is, after all, a self-comforting strategy for coping with life's little traumas. In general it is best to allow hiding cats to emerge on their own terms and in their own time.
It is less common to encounter a cat who avoids contact with a household member. If the apparent fear is a new behavior, it may be related to a specific situation. The feared person may have frightened the cat, for example, by chasing him abruptly from the kitchen counter, or inadvertently by shouting at a football game. Some cats are simply more sensitive to loud noises or abrupt movements. A fearful reaction may even result from accidental odors—scents of other cats or animals deposited on clothing, or strange scents from other environments, such as work or school.
Regardless of the cause, fearful behavior can be eased by changing the relationship between the feared person and the cat. A spouse or older child, for example, can take over feeding duties so that your cat learns to associate that person with something positive.
All punishment, even the verbal kind, should be avoided if you have a scaredy cat. In fact, even petting should be limited only to times the cat initiates contact, and only as head scratches (no roughhousing or wrestling).
Using a small bell, rung first whenever the cat is fed, can help by teaching him to associate a familiar and pleasing sound (the bell) with the arrival of visitors or (feared) family members.