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article imageCats may not be as intelligent as previously thought

By Julian Worker     Jun 28, 2009 in Science
The debate about whether cats or dogs are the more intelligent pet will surely be re-ignited by a recent research project that indicated cats performed worse than dogs in cause-and-effect experiments involving tasty morsels on pieces of string.
When a teaching fellow at Exeter University, Britta Osthaus, now a Psychology lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, conducted some research into feline intelligence she produced some findings that might surprise certain cat owners.
She found that cats don’t appear to understand the nature of cause-and-effect. The research involved using 15 cats and pieces of string. She attached a tasty morsel to one end of a piece of string. She then placed the morsel under a plastic screen so the cat couldn’t grab it. She then waited to see whether the cat would work out that pulling on their end of the string would bring the morsel closer to them.
This proved not to be a problem for the 15 cats who worked out what was required.
Then in a second test, she used two parallel strings where only one of the strings had a morsel attached. No cat always chose to pull on the right string to bring the morsel closer. In previous tests on dogs, some canines had always chosen the right string.
Osthaus then introduced a third test, a variation on the second. The strings were crossed instead of being parallel. One cat always made the wrong choice and others succeeded no more than might be expected by dumb luck. Dogs again performed better in this test.
These final two results are surprising given that cats use their paws to hunt and play, but then again they aren’t confronted with tricks like those used in the test.
More about Cat, Intelligence, String, Research, Feline
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