I have always been a staunch adherent to the theory that cats, much as I like them, are as thick as two short planks. Cunning? Yes. Intelligent? Our survey said ‘Nurr nurr.’
Much as it pains me to admit this, but I may have been wrong all along. Researchers in Japan, led by a Dr Saho Takagi, have found they’re as smart as dogs. Dr Takagi sounds like a Bond villain or the head of the Nakatomi Corporation, but she’s actually a psychologist. She exposed 49 cats to an experiment traditionally used on dogs.
The details are a bit obscure, so I’ll tell you what I know. Cats showed clear evidence of episodic memory, apparently. Forty nine of the little buggers were led to four containers of food and allowed to eat from two of them, taken away, and returned 15 minutes later. Meanwhile the bowls had been emptied (that’s a job for heroes with strong stomachs) and washed (ditto).
On their return, the cats spent more time exploring the bowls they didn’t eat out of than those they did. Allegedly, this suggests that they remembered the bowls they had eaten out of and didn’t want to ‘waste time’ exploring them when the other two were more likely to contain food.
I do hope the researchers were wearing protective clothing, because just as with Schrodinger’s cat this is fraught with danger.
Show a cat an empty food bowl and it’s going to turn into a killing machine. Either that or cry piteously. Or sit down in a bored fashion and have a damned good displacement activity wash. It is NOT going to ‘explore’ an empty food bowl, so this makes me doubt the veracity of the findings.
I doubt Dr Takagi full stop, if I’m brutally honest, because she babbles on about other cat abilities. She claims that cats understand gravity, a phenomenon that has baffled the best scientists for centuries. They also understand cause and effect, and combine the two with their hearing to predict where prey may be hiding.
If they understand cause and effect, how come they do not understand why, if they jump up onto a work surface when you’re chopping something, they’ll be summarily swept onto the floor without warning? The fact they do this over and over and over again gives the lie to the concept of episodic memory, too, I feel.