Have you ever watched your cat and wondered what’s going on in his furry little mind? While there are laboratories around the world dedicated to studying the minds of dogs, there’s been comparatively little research on cat intelligence or how cats’ brains work. Part of the reason for this is that cats (as anyone who’s ever met one can tell you) can be a little difficult to work with. But as difficult as it’s been, scientists have been able to learn quite a bit about cats’ inner workings. Here are a few things they’ve figured out so far.
Cats can follow our signs.
While cats might not understand what you’re saying with your words, researchers have found that cats can understand human pointing gestures and will follow them to find food.
“Since cats have both been bred to be domestic and spend a lot of time with humans, we would expect them to pick up on human cues to some extent,” wrote animal behavior and cognition researchers Kristyn R. Vitale Shreve and Monique A. R. Udell in a review of the state of cat cognition research. “However, anyone who has owned a cat knows that they are not always as responsive as you might want them to be.”
Cats don’t fall for disappearing acts.
If an object is put out of sight, gets placed behind something else, for example, we know that it hasn’t ceased to exist but has merely been hidden from us. That concept, called “object permanence,” seems pretty basic for us, but not all animals (or even very young human babies) grasp it.
Researchers have shown that cats can easily solve tests for object permanence and consistently search for hidden objects where they disappeared. “If prey disappears behind cover, obscuring the prey from view, cats would benefit from the ability to remember the location of the prey before its disappearance,” Vitale Shreve and Udell say.
Cat memories aren’t that great.
Studies have found that cats’ ability to remember and use information for short periods, called “working memory,” lasts around a minute and declines rapidly after just 10 seconds. However, cats’ long-term memories are more highly developed, Vitale Shreve and Udell say, but the memories can be affected by things like disease or age.
Cats have some concept of time and can tell more from less.
There is some evidence that cats can discriminate between different lengths of time. Vitale Shreve and Udell say that cats may have “an internal clock that is responsible for assessing the duration of events.”
In addition to knowing a longer length of time from a shorter one, cats appear to be able to tell a larger quantity of something from a smaller one. As with object permanence, it makes sense that cats would have this mental skill if they want to maximize how much food they can acquire when hunting.
While we still have a lot to learn about how cats’ brains work and how they think, perceive and interact with us, it’s already clear that they have some amazing mental skills.
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