Study Says Cats Grasp Laws of Physics: It’s All in the Stare

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A new study sheds some light on feline genius. A series of tests using balls in cups and conducted with the cooperation of cafe cats in Japan suggest cats understand physics in general and gravity in particular.  And also revealed how much more we have to learn about the common house cat. “Cats have a lot of abilities that we do not understand yet,” one of the study’s authors wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

The study was published in the journal, Animal Cognition, and is entitled “There’s no ball without noise: cats’ prediction of an object from noise.” We know what you’re thinking! “My cat is a regular Isaac Newton. He knocks things off tables just to watch them fall.” Agreed. But keep an open mind. Scientists use some interesting methods to study, measure and try to prove what many cat owners casually observe.

“Our study is the first demonstration that cats seem to grasp the laws of physics,” Kyoto University’s Saho Takagi  commented in her email to The Washington Post. The study was based on a sample of 30 cats who were either pets or residents of cat cafes. (The researchers found cafe cats sociable and easy to work with.)

Using a magnetized cup and ball, scientists were able to present cats with events that made sense: a cup with a ball inside is rattled and then a ball falls out. And ones that didn’t make sense: a cup is rattled and no ball falls out, or a ball falls out of a cup  that did not rattle. Here’s what they found. Cats spent a lot more time staring at what the scientists were doing when things got weird and didn’t make sense. As in, “Hey, I just heard a ball rattling in that cup. But she turned the darned thing upside down and nothing came out. Where the heck is the ball?”

Scientists decided that the cat’s expectations were “violated,” suggesting they could grasp cause and effect. “This study may be viewed as evidence for cats’ having a rudimentary understanding of gravity.” Rudimentary? These scientists really do have a lot more to learn about cats.





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