Cats use simple physics to zero in on hiding prey

"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects," lead researcher Saho Takagi said.
By Brooks Hays  |  June 14, 2016 at 3:45 PM
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TOKYO, June 14 (UPI) -- Experiments by researchers at Kyoto University in Japan suggest cats have rudimentary understanding of physics and the principle of cause and effect.

Previous studies have shown cats use their hearing to anticipate the presence of hidden objects. Most recently, researchers tested whether cats could anticipate an object's presence in a box based on the sound made when shaking the box. The researchers also tested whether cats expected an object to fall from a box when it was flipped upside down. The findings were published this week in the journal Animal Cognition.

Experimenters shook boxes in front of 30 domestic cats with and without an accompanying rattling sound. Some flipped boxes yielded a dropped object, the others did not.

Only two of the four scenarios -- a rattling box yielding an object and a silent box yielding nothing -- complied with physics. Rattling boxes without a falling object and silent boxes with a falling object both defied physics.

During the experiment, cats stared longer at rattling boxes, suggesting they rightly anticipated an object based on sound. They also stared longer when a flipped box yielded unexpected results -- results incongruent with the laws of physics.

"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects," lead researcher Saho Takagi explained in a news release.

Scientists believe cats' advanced use of hearing is dictated by their hunting environs. Feline predators often hunt at night when their vision is limited. They must use sound to infer a prey's location, distance and directional movement.

Researchers are now trying to learn whether cats can intimate the shape and size of an object based on sound.

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