Grasp of basic physics and cause-and-effect helps cats identify prey's likely hiding spots.
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Science!
Cats have rudimentary understanding of physics and the principle of cause and effect.
Previous studies have shown cats use their hearing to anticipate the presence of hidden objects. Most recently, researchers tested whether cats could anticipate an object's presence in a box based on the sound made when shaking the box. The researchers also tested whether cats expected an object to fall from a box when it was flipped upside down. The findings were published this week in the journal Animal Cognition.
Experimenters shook boxes in front of 30 domestic cats with and without an accompanying rattling sound. Some flipped boxes yielded a dropped object, the others did not.
Only two of the four scenarios -- a rattling box yielding an object and a silent box yielding nothing -- complied with physics. Rattling boxes without a falling object and silent boxes with a falling object both defied physics.
During the experiment, cats stared longer at rattling boxes, suggesting they rightly anticipated an object based on sound. They also stared longer when a flipped box yielded unexpected results -- results incongruent with the laws of physics.
"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects," lead researcher Saho Takagi explained in a news release.
Scientists believe cats' advanced use of hearing is dictated by their hunting environs. Feline predators often hunt at night when their vision is limited. They must use sound to infer a prey's location, distance and directional movement.
Researchers are now trying to learn whether cats can intimate the shape and size of an object based on sound.
Studying cat behavior is the best science ever.
Top Reddit comments:
So, how much do they understand when they knock stuff off of a table? Is this just boredom?
I've had two cats that seemed to understand cause and effect pretty well, in that they knew what things to do to get my attention.
When I met my wife, she was still living with her parents, and her cat had a keen sense for when "dinner time" was. She would meow at us for a while, and get no response because we were young and lazy. Then she'd walk over to the bed, meow until we looked at her, and then stretch on the bed base, scratching it, while staring at us.
If (when) that failed, the next step was to go upstairs, and meow at my wife's mother, eventually progressing to threatening to stretch on the couch (I'll note that she never actually did it - she probably knew that that was a step too far). This would get my MiL to yell at my wife to feed the cat, at which point the cat would piss-bolt to her food bowl, and patiently sit there waiting.
My current cat whinges for food as soon as it looks remotely like it might almost be dusk (say, if it goes from sunny to overcast). He'll also scratch random things around the house while eyeing us, but can't really tell what actually bothers us (he has a scratching post, and stare at us while we ignore him scratching that).
If I'm on the computer, he'll try to get in my way, and a couple of months ago realised that putting a paw on my power button will definitely get my attention, so that's his go-to if my "ignore" game is too strong that day.