JUN 26, 2016 11:14 AM PDT

Do Cats Have a Greater Understanding of Physics Than Previously Thought?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Cats seem to be incredibly slick creatures with the ability to land on their feet just about any time they fall. They also seem to have a fairly decent understanding of the world around them; their intellect allows them to sense gravity and predict what will happen next when they hear certain noises.

Do cats really understand the laws of physics?

Playing on these two talents, a study conducted by researchers from Japan-based Kyoto University attempts to toy with these senses to see how the cats react, and the findings, which have been published in the journal Animal Cognition, are quite interesting, if not cute.
The study involved around 30 household cats and some boxes. The researchers played with the cats’ understandings of physics by shaking the boxes and letting the cats hear the rattling sound of something inside the box before flipping the box upside down and letting something fall out of it before the cats’ eyes.
Some of the boxes actually had something in them, while other boxes were actually empty, and the researchers played a rattling sound similar to what the cat would expect to hear. In some of the tests, some of the boxes even had something in the boxes, but the researchers were careful not to let the box make any noises when being shook up.
Afterwards, the scientists would flip the boxes upside down so that anything that was in box could fall out to the ground, and the cats would appear to stare at the box for moments on end before the flip as if to anticipate something dropping out.
The only catch to this story, of course, is that sometimes something didn’t fall out because of the box was actually empty when the researchers played a rattling sound. In these instances, the cats seemed stumped; they would stare at the box, and the researcher, for a long time as if they were thinking hard and they would then investigate the box seemingly to try and understand just what the heck was going on.

In the instances where something actually fell out, the cats spent less time staring, almost as if they already expected something to fall out and became bored with the results.
This behavior would seem to imply that cats seem to understand when something is inside of something based off of the sounds it makes, and have evolved to expect something to fall out when the box is flipped upside down; this is classified as the ‘cause and effect’ rule, where something will happen relative to something else happening first as a direct result.

"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects," said lead researcher Saho Takagi.
Such knowledge would indicate that these felines have a slight understanding of physics – especially gravity – and it may be an evolutionary trait acquired to make cats the great hunters that they are.
Do cats understand physics? It’s hard to tell from the information unearthed by this study, but it would seem that they understand the principle of cause and effect, where if something is making a rattling noise when shaken up, you would expect that something must be inside of it as the forces throw it around and it hits the inner walls of whatever it being shaken up.
Source: Science Daily, Huffington Post

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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