Is Your Cat Smart? Can your cat: answer their name? Tell the difference between your voice which of a stranger? Quickly locate a toy hidden behind a solid object, say, a bit of furniture? If the solution to all or any of these questions is yes, it’s a symbol that your kitty is pretty intelligent, consistent with feline behaviourist Kristyn Vitale, PhD, a cat researcher at Oregon State University’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab. Today, the European wildcat is one of the world’s hottest pets, with an estimated 600 million of them living in households worldwide. “I think the power of cats to be very flexible in their behaviour is one reason they’ve been so popular,” Vitale says. “They can have the best in an apartment or on a farm.” Surprisingly, relatively little research so far has been dedicated to cat cognition or their internal mental processes, especially compared with the sizable number of studies conducted on dogs’ cognitive processes.
Cognition versus intelligence
Vitale is attempting to correct that. She’s one among a small number of researchers studying feline cognition, which, she says, differs from intelligence. She says that understanding is “how a private cat is brooding about something.” Intelligence, she says, “is more how they’re using what they believe something to influence it intelligently…a way that we perceive as being smart. It’s a fine line between the 2 .”
Until now, researchers have focused mainly on cats’ physical cognition, for instance, hearing, sight, and smell. These senses play a crucial role for cats from birth, especially smell, since kittens are born blind but with functioning olfactory systems. “Cats’ strong sense of smell is certainly a source of their intelligence and a serious means by which they perceive the planet,” consistent with Vitale.
Another aspect of cat physical cognition studied early is “object permanence”—recognizing that when an object disappears, it continues to exist. This type of recognition “is a cognitive milestone for human infants,” says Vitale. Evidence for the skill in felines comes from several studies showing that they will quickly solve “visible displacement” tests during which they see an object disappear and look for it where it had been. Researchers say that not only do cats quickly solve this sort of test but that the older they’re, the higher they become at solving the issues posed.
Yet another early study checked out whether cats have an indoor clock. It stands to reason they might, Vitale says, because felines are active during dusk and dawn. “Having natural cycles, knowing once they got to hunt and wish to rest, is sensible for them.” Notably, when cats live alongside us, they’re smart enough to readjust their natural behaviours, she says. “He got out of bed. That’s a sign. It’s light outside, so it’s time to eat. Many of those things get associated, and cats track them that way.” this is often called associative learning.
Picking up on cues
Vitale’s lab focuses on cats’ social cognition, or how they perceive and influence social stimuli in their environment. a method to check for social awareness is to look at how cats devour on human cues. Social referencing is often a cat’s ability to use a person’s emotional reactions to gauge an unfamiliar situation and adjust the cat’s behaviour as required.
In one test, Vitale features a cat owner act either afraid or happy toward an object, during this case, a lover with streamers, which a cat might well find frightening. Vitale waits to ascertain if the cat picks up its human’s emotional cues. “If the owner’s afraid,” Vitale asks, “is the cat behind the owner looking nervously at the item? If the owner’s happy, is that the cat next to him, trying to interact and search at the item?” Socially smart cats will devour their owners’ emotional states. But is your cat smart?
Ability to bond
Another measure of social cognition Vitale has been researching is that the attachment bond. Cats and their humans are brought into the lab together. “Then we take the owner out, leaving the cat alone within the room. We bring the owner back in two minutes later, and there’s a reunion.” When reunited with their human, some cats greet their person, “then return to exploring the space .” These cats are securely attached, consistent with Vitale. Other cats attend to their human and hold close them. That, says Vitale, is an insecure response. “They’re still upset that the owner left.” She adds, “We even have cats that don’t respond when their owner returns; they sit at a distance and ignore the owner,” a symbol that bonding is incomplete to determine if your cat is wise.
These attachment styles might correspond to the cat’s earliest weeks and months of life. Studies on how early sensory experiences influence brain development and perception found that cats between 3 and 9 weeks aged got to spend time around and interact with people to develop healthy socialization behaviours with us. In other words, early interaction with people generally makes for friendlier cats.
Is your cat smart if she follows your finger?
Early training can help cats stay attuned to human cues like finger-pointing. Indeed, a study from cognitive ethologist Ádám Miklósi, PhD, DSc, and colleagues found that cats generally find food when a person points to it. Later research suggests that cats can even distinguish between people’s voices, which our vocalizations elicit measurable changes in behaviour. People view cats as independent, aloof and self-centred, Vitale says. But once they see how social these animals are in her videos, the arguments stop. “With many cats in our homes,” she concludes, “it’s imperative to know their behaviour and the way they process the planet .”
Is your cat smart if she follows commands?
All four of Vitale’s cats (Bo, Macy, Carl, and Kevin) know to take a seat, come, and stand. “It’s something they are doing a day,” the cat cognition researcher says. “I have all of them sit for his or her food.” But Bo is brilliant. “He knows the commands stand, high jump, skip an obstacle, high-five, ring a service bell, and more.”
Most people are sceptical when Vitale explains that cats are smart enough to be trained, but they have only watched her YouTube training videos (maueyes.com) to be convinced. Signs of intelligence: If your cat quickly learns new tricks; can easily differentiate between different events or items; rapidly solves food puzzles; or is exceptionally aware of your emotions, gestures, or pointing cues.
Test: Hide a treat or toy and see how long it takes the kitty to seek out it
Put one treat under a cup to your left and another one under a cup to your right. Point to the cup you would like the cat follows. Only give the treat if she goes to the right cup. Do that ten times. How often does she choose because you point at it instead of because she smells it: (a) seven out of ten approaches; (b) fewer than seven approaches.
Test: Hide a favourite toy
Show your cat a favourite toy (like a catnip-filled “mouse”). Place the toy behind a bit of furniture where it’s relatively easily accessible. Watch cat’s behaviour. Does the cat immediately retrieve the toy; (b) stay put?
Test: Problem-solving skills
Put a treat or toy inside an egg carton and see if your cat can open the carton. Does cat do this: (a) very fast; (b) very slow.
Test: See if your cat can understand your behaviour.
Sit on the ground. Ignore your cat for one minute, then concentrate on the cat for one minute. Does the cat’s behaviour change, counting on your attention toward the cat? In other words, does she: (a) interact with you somehow; (b) ignore you completely.
Test: Can your cat differentiate between two shapes?
Cut out an outsized circle and a square from a thick piece of paper. Place the shapes ahead of your cat. At first, reward your cat for tapping either form. It gets them won’t to touch them. Choose which shape you would like to coach your cat to acknowledge. If it’s the circle, it only provides a treat for touching the circle. Does your cat (a) catch on quickly and tap only the circle; (b) rarely catch on, right.
Results about are your innovative cat test:
If your cat mainly got “a’s”— congratulations—she may be a quick learner! If your cat mainly got “b’s,” try providing additional stimulation to nurture intelligence. It will include enrichment training, interactive toys, cat furniture for climbing, food puzzles, and exposure to novel stimuli.
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