According to a new study led by Kyoto University researcher Saho Takagi, domestic cats (Felis catus) really have a certain understanding for elements of physics and the cause-and-effect principle.
The researchers tested if cats use a causal rule to infer if a container holds an object, based on whether it is shaken along with a sound or not. They also checked if cats expect an object to fall out or not, once the container is turned over.
"We presented cats with either an object dropping out of an opaque container or no
object dropping out (turning-over phase) after producing either a rattling sound by
shaking the container with the object inside, or no sound (shaking phase),"
Dr. Takagi and co-authors explained.
"The relation between the sound and the object matched with physical laws in half of
the trials (congruent condition) and mismatched in the other half (incongruent condition)."
The scientists found that the cats looked longer at containers shaken together with a noise, which suggests that cats use a physical law to infer the existence of objects based on whether they heard a rattle. Further, the cats also stared longer at containers in incongruent conditions, meaning an object dropped despite its having been shaken noiselessly or the other way around. The cats realize that such conditions don't fit into their grasp of causal logic.
"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance
of invisible objects," said Dr. Takagi, who is lead author of a paper published this week
in the journal Animal Cognition.
"Hunting cats often need to infer the location or the distance of their prey from sounds
alone because they stake out places of poor visibility," Dr. Takagi said.
"Further research is needed to find out exactly what cats see in their mind’s eye when
they pick up noises, and if they can extract information such as quantity and size from
what they hear."