How kitten see us and the world
Kitten is the most popular pets in many countries. And they are capable of amazing intellectual achievements: some facts about the cognition of four-legged friends.
Unsurprisingly, scientists prefer and more often to use dogs than cats in behavioral experiments; Entire research groups and specialist conferences deal with the subject of "dog cognition", which has led to the fact that we understand our four-legged friends better and better. I remember after watching "The cat returns" on kissanime i fell in love with them.
The sensory perception of cats
One of the best-studied areas of cat cognition is its perception, i.e. its ability to hear, smell, see, and use its whiskers to detect stimuli. The olfactory perception (the ability to smell) is especially important for kittens because it has a significant influence on the relationship with the mother. On the other hand, young cats do not react to acoustic stimuli until they are 11 to 16 days old, and visual stimuli are only perceived after 16 to 21 days.
Smell signals also play an important role in the further life of cats; adult animals set scent marks to mark their territory and can recognize the territories of other individuals through their noses. As with dogs, the scent of their conspecifics provides the cats with social information.
Despite the importance of smells to cats, the vast majority of behavioral experiments in these animals focus on their eyesight. So our current knowledge of how cats perceive the world through their nose is quite limited.
The object permanence of four-legged friends
Object permanence is understood as the ability to "remember" an object, even if it moves out of view. In other words, knowing that something disappears doesn't mean it's gone forever. For example, if a ball rolls under a sofa, we know that it is still there, even if we can no longer see it. In humans this ability develops quite early;
Toddlers under the age of two are already able to remember things. Anyone who has ever slipped a toy mouse under a piece of furniture while being watched by a cat staring at the mouse would correctly suspect that cats have also developed object permanence.
In one experiment, for example, an experimenter showed a cat a food hiding place, whereupon the animal actually looked for food a short time later. In addition, cats apparently cannot remember just one object that disappears from their sight.
They also deduce where it must have got to - even if they don't see directly how someone is moving the object. In order to check this in the experiment, a cat is shown a container with food, which the experimenter then let's disappear behind a screen.
The food is secretly removed and the cat sees the empty container. If the animal now concludes that the food is hidden behind the screen, it would have to look for food at that point. In this so-called "invisible displacement test", cats may not do quite as well as dogs, but it has so far been difficult to say whether the result actually reflects the abilities of the animals or whether it is only due to the experimental design.
Recognize physical causality
Cognitive researchers often ask whether animals understand "physical laws": whether an animal understands how the objects in their environment are connected to one another. For example, birds are tested in experimental arrangements in which they have to reach food that is attached to the end of vertically hanging cords. The bird should understand exactly how it has to pull the string upwards with the help of its beak and feet in order to get the reward.
Unfortunately, such studies have hardly been carried out with cats so far; however, there is one study in which the animals were able to demonstrate their abilities in such an experiment. In this experimental set-up, some of the cords were attached to the food "sensibly", but others ran horizontally or crossed in an unsuitable way (at least for us) in order to be able to reach the food by pulling.
During this experiment, the cats did not seem to understand what was actually going on, because they pulled all the strings at random. However, this could just as well be due to the experimental setup and less to the limited abilities of the cats. Or it is simply because cats like to pull on strings - whether there is food on them or not.
Bond to the owner
In 2007, Claudia Edwards and coworkers conducted what is known as the "Ainsworth Strange Situation Test" to check whether cats are more closely attached to their owner than to any other human. During this test, the cat was brought into a room and had to stay there either alone, with its owner, or with a stranger.
The researchers found that the animals sought longer physical contact with their owner than with the stranger. In addition, they only ran after their owner and only played with him. In the presence of their owner, the cats were generally more eager to explore and move around. If the animals were alone or in the presence of the stranger, they behaved more vigilantly and sat near the door for a longer period of time.
The cats made most of their vocalizations when they were alone in the room. So it seems that cats do indeed have a bond with their owner that is stronger than with strangers - this may be some comfort.