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article imageHow cats make best use of the laws of physics

By Tim Sandle     Dec 16, 2016 in Science
Cats are better attuned to the physical world than humans, a new study implies. The research from Japan shows how cats understand the principle of cause and effect and put this into good use when hunting for prey.
Anyone who has owned a cat knows they are interesting creatures. In the domestic setting the cat adapts to human company and engages the in the types of behaviors readily screened on social media (the love-them-of-hate-them cat videos). Outside the cat takes on a different persona and shows the signs of being an effective hunter-killer.
The prey tracking instincts of the cat show how well the feline has become, through evolutionary development, attuned to the laws for physics. This is through both understanding the principle of cause and effect together with remarkable hearing. Looking into the behavior of cats, Kyoto University researchers have found a number of behaviors of interest.
First, the researchers discovered that cats can predict the presence of invisible objects based on what they hear. Secondly, they found that cats follow a causal rule to infer whether or not a container holds an object, based on whether it is shaken and whether the shaking makes a sound or not. Thirdly, the scientists found cats display a level of expectation about whether an object will fall out or not, once the container is turned over.
To test this out, thirty domestic cats were recorded as one of the researchers shook a container. This was designed to that sometimes the shaking caused a rattling sound and sometimes it did not. After the shaking, the receptacle was inverted and either an object fell out or it did not. With this the researchers orientated the study either in-line with physical laws or not in line with the laws of physics.
With the first set of conditions, following the laws of physics: shaking was accompanied by a (no) sound and an (no) object to fall out of the container. With the second set of conditions, these were designed to be incongruent to the laws of physics: either a rattling sound was followed by no object dropping out of the container; or no sound was made while shaking led to a falling object.
It was found that all of the cats spent more time looking at the containers that were shaken and where a occurred. From this, the researchers concluded that cats used a physical law to infer the existence (or absence) of objects based on sound. This demonstrated that cats have a predictive sense and used physical clues to predict if an object would appear (or not) once a container was turned upside down.
The study also found that cats look at containers in incongruent conditions (where an object dropped when it had been shaken noiselessly). Here the researchers think that the cats could reason that this set of conditions fell outside of their innate understanding of causal logic (it was odd, therefore it interested them).
For the wild cat or when the domestic cat goes outside, the research indicates that hunting cats will more often infer the location or the distance of their prey from sounds rather than visual clues. That is cats have the ability to use sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects.
The research has been published in the journal Animal Cognition. The research is titled ".There’s no ball without noise: cats’ prediction of an object from noise"
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