According to a new study, cats understand certain laws of physics. Does this make them smarter than their owners? Dog lovers will probably have an opinion on this. If he were still around, Isaac Newton might have one as well.
This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity.
And not just the “cats always land on all fours” kind of gravity. Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan, led by Saho Takagi, collected 22 cats from Japanese cat cafes and eight domestic cats (they weren’t volunteers – cats don’t volunteer for anything) and tested their ability to understand the physics principle of cause-and-effect and some others.
Cat cafes? In countries like Japan where cats are popular but apartments allowing cats are not, cat cafes charge people an hourly rate to come in and play with cats. Sounds like a great plan to prevent the stray cat problem other countries like the U.S. have.
The researchers used a plastic container lined with an electromagnet and three iron balls to test the cats. They rattles the balls and dumped them out, then turned on the magnet, rattled the box (no sound) and nothing came out. Next they switched things around to fake out the cats – noise with no balls dropping, no noise with balls dropping.
According to the study, the cats demonstrated their awareness of gravity by moving away from the noisy box so they didn’t get hit by falling iron balls. Then they showed their awareness of cause-and-effect by staring longer at the box that made noise (anticipating the falling balls) and looking puzzled when sometimes nothing came out of a noisy box.
At the risk of sounding like a biased dog owner … that’s it?
The results suggest that cats used a causal-logical understanding of auditory stimuli to predict the appearance of invisible objects. The ecology of cats’ natural hunting style may favor the ability for inference on the basis of sounds.
“Hunting based on sounds” sounds like the strategy of many animals, not just cats. If this is a demonstration of an understanding of physics, then there’s a lot of pets who could qualify for government grants to conduct government studies like this one.
Do cats understand physics better than some humans? Can you think of anyone you know who would flunk the “iron balls stuck to hidden magnets” test? Sober?