Kyoto University researchers found that cats actually have a basic grasp on the laws of physics. When combined with their sharp sense of hearing, this ability allows them to seek out their hidden preys despite poor visibility.
The study published on June 14 in the journal Animal Cognition builds on an earlier work, also by the same researchers, that demonstrated cats‘ ability to predict the presence of an object in a container using their keen sense of hearing. However, this time, the team wanted to know of these animals also understand the principle of cause and effect through shaking containers with or without sound.
The experiment involved assessing 30 domestic cats. The Japanese researchers presented these cats with a container that holds an object and another one without an object.
When shaken, the container with an object produced a rattling sound while the empty container did not. When turned over, an object falls out of the noisy container.
To confuse the cats, the research team also included in the experiments containers with rattling sound but without an object falling out of it. They also presented the cats with noiseless containers that had an object come out of it when turned over.
As expected, the cats looked longer at the containers that produced noise, predicting that an object comes out of it. This proves that cats used a physical law to determine that an object will come out of the noisy container.
However, when an object came out of a noiseless container but not in the noisy container, the cats inspected the noisy container, showing that they expected an object to fall out of it. This behavior demonstrates that cats realized that noisy containers have an object inside but when no object came out, it did not fit their logic.
According to lead researcher Saho Takagi, from Kyoto University, this physics understanding is crucial to a cat’s hunting approach. Still, Takagi asserts that more research is required to determine what exactly cats see when they hear noises and if they can determine their prey’s size or quantity based on it.