Cats rival dogs on many tests of social smarts. But is anyone brave enough to study them?

Cats rival dogs on many tests of social smarts. But is anyone brave enough to study them?

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I have two cats at home. They’re mostly wonderful, except for when they’re terrible. I think most cat owners know that their cats are smart and affectionate our cat Jasper, when I’m outside with him, he’ll look at me, he’ll look at the wall, he’ll look back at me, and if I bend over, he jumps on my back and he jumps on the wall. And so there’s this complex — Even though he can’t talk to me, it’s very clear to me what he wants. And it’s very clear to him how to communicate what he wants with me. I’m David Grimm. I’m the online news editor at Science. So for a long time scientists did not study cats and dogs when it came to studying, what we call, social cognition. This is the idea of studying how cats and dogs and other animals relate to us as human beings. there was this idea that everything we’ve done over domestication had sort of created this kind of fuzzy signal Whereas, if you studied the mind of a chimpanzee or a crow, you’re getting a purer signal, because this is an animal that has not been bred or selected to live with people in any way Now, that all changed in 1998, when two independent labs showed that dogs could understand what we mean when we point at an object. So if you point at an object… even a toddler understands “Look at that thing.” And when we do that with chimpanzees, they don’t understand that at all. They have no idea what we’re doing. But lo and behold in 1998, a couple of labs showed that when they did that with dogs, dogs looked at the object. And this was really a shocker for the field. So today, there are more than a dozen labs around the world that study canine cognition. And yet, there’s been almost nothing with cats. Researchers have largely ignored cats while they’ve been focusing a lot of energy on dogs. one of the reasons that scientists avoid studying cats, is that they’re very difficult to work with. You bring a dog into a laboratory, and for the most part, this dog wants to please you. So taking them to a lab is not a big deal. It’s pretty easy to work with dogs. Cats are another story. A lot of cats are just kept in the home all the time, so taking them them to a new environment is very scary for them. There was this study in 2005 that’s showing cats can do human pointing, but even in that study a lot of the cats dropped out of the study, which meant, they basically wouldn’t cooperate. They either just left the room, A lot of them just sort of walked away from the testing site for the most part, cats after a few trials, they’ve had it, they’re done. all of these problems made it very difficult to do these studies,
which is why even when this first study came out in 2005, nobody really followed up on it, including the lab that actually did the work. And it wasn’t until about five or six years ago that we’ve started to see this uptick again in people starting to look at cats again in terms of social cognition. Oregon State University They’re one of the big cat labs in the world, and one of the things that they’re doing is really studying this social connection that cats have with people One of the tests they do is called an attachment test. And basically what this involves is, the owner and the cat will go into a room, so the cat’s kind of a little freaked out because they’re in this room and they don’t know what’s going on. And yes, their owner’s there, but whatever. And then the owner leaves, and then the cat’s really freaked out, right And the cats will tend to meow a lot, and maybe turn and… Maybe go in circles, almost if they’re kind of panicking. And then the owner comes back into the room sits down on the ground, and often the cat will come running back to the owner, And then something very interesting happens, All of a sudden they will leave the owner, and they will start exploring the room So they’ll sniff out the corners. Maybe there’s a toy on the floor, they’ll play with the toy. And the average person would look at and go, “Well, clearly, the cat doesn’t care about their owner. Their owner’s there and all the cat wants to do is explore the room.” But it’s actually the opposite that’s true. the cat has such a close bond with their owner that they go, “Okay, now my owner is here, So now I’m free to do what I like to do as a cat, which is kind of go out and explore.” They also do this test, which an Italian group pioneered basically, what it involves is again, the cat and the owner are in this white lab room. And the researchers bring in this object, it’s a fan with these streamers attached to
it. And then the researchers would turn the fan
on. So of course, this fan’s blowing, it’s making a lot of noise. And cats will get, obviously, pretty freaked out about that. And then what the owner does is, the owner is instructed to make nice with the fan, “What a nice fan, what a lovely fan.” “Do you wanna meet the fan? Do you wanna touch the fan? Do you wanna get to know the fan?” And sometimes, the owner will actually go up and touch the
fan. And what’s really surprising, some cats will all of a sudden, they kinda calm down, they’ll approach the fan
when the owner approaches the fan. And I even saw in one situation where a cat went right up to the fan and just laid down right in front of the fan, which is kind of a remarkable… This is an object that just a couple of minutes ago that was scaring the stuffing out of them. And all of a sudden they’re feeling comfortable now with it, because they picked up on these emotional cues from their owner, like, “Oh, this isn’t something I should be afraid
of.” And so all of these things, like following human gaze, understanding our emotional states, show that cats, very much like dogs, are very tuned into us, which makes a lot of sense.
Again, we’re talking about creatures that not only have to live in our homes, but really have to anticipate, what do we mean when we do things? Are we angry at them? Are we happy with them Do we want them to look at something? Do we want them to do something? Without them understanding that, it’s really… Would be fairly impossible for us to have the kind of relationship we have with these animals otherwise. So even though it looks like things are starting to come together for cat cognition, we’ve got a handful of labs around the world studying cats, we’ve got papers coming out, So one of the big open questions is whether this is the beginning of a movement,
a big movement for cats, or whether it’s gonna continue to be a very niche part of science just because there’s only a few people out there that are actually willing to work with cats? Some of the things they’re interested in looking at is, “Can cats categorize things?” So we know that dogs can actually, after a little bit of trial and error, figure out if they’re being shown a picture of a landscape or a picture of another dog. So you maybe show them a few pictures of lakes and mountains, and then you show them pictures of other dogs, And it turns out dogs can do that. And so now one researcher
actually wants to try that with cats to see if cats can also categorize things. No pun intended, I guess. So cats have this reputation of being aloof and anti-social and even dumb when it comes to things like, “Oh, cats can’t do tricks,” and all this other stuff. But what this research is showing is that whatever tricks dogs were able to pick up over the course of evolution, cats also picked up a lot of those tricks. It’s just that we haven’t spent enough time looking for them, and we haven’t found a great way, and we haven’t found a great way to study cats. And once we do,
likely we’re gonna see that there’s a lot of complexity going on in the cat brain, and there’s a lot of complexity in the relationship between cats and people. We just need to do the studies to find that
out.

28 thoughts on “Cats rival dogs on many tests of social smarts. But is anyone brave enough to study them?

  • Banana Post author

    5:36 "cats can also categorize things" no pun intended I guess

  • Africa#1 Post author

    My dogs literally know how to communicate with me and I understand them its awsome

  • Victor Ponce Post author

    dogs are still better

  • eclipse Post author

    Dogs have 2 times more neurons than cats.

  • gary oak Post author

    Ive been spending more time observing cats recently one of them always wants food and so he will get up if i pass by and walk in front of me if I stop he'll stop he wont just go to the food then if i keep walking he'll keep walking until we get close enough to where the food is and he'll hop on top of the platform and see if i give him food. Sometimes i do not all the time. Another cat always comes to my feet and puts her face right on my feet for some reason and then like brushes herself all over my legs she's a good cat. Think she likes me a lot.

  • General Lee N Knass /knot retired/ Post author

    Can Cats herd my Chickens?

  • 2Hedz Post author

    Great video! But I don't know anyone who legitimately thinks cats are dumb because they can't do tricks. Being subservient isn't a trait of intelligence…

  • David Boson Post author

    So studying cats is too hard because the cats don't do what they are told. But dogs do what they are told to do. So cats and dogs do not behave the same. Their brains are not the same. OMG!!!

  • Jaye-Andrea Arp Post author

    I love cats. They are independent, yet loving. They are much easier to take care of than dogs. I’m glad they are being studied.

  • TeachingTheCode Post author

    This just in: People rationalize their asymmetrical relationships with their cats. Mental gymnastics and cognitive biases abound!

  • Danielle Spargo Post author

    I think all cat owners already know a lot of these things, dog people just never believe us lol
    Because every time you wanna show someone else what you're talking about, they decided this is the exact right time to stop cooperating lol

    But that's fine, it's our little secret. πŸ™‚

  • Katzenworld Blog Post author

    thanks for uploading this!

  • xkm1948 Post author

    So many salty dog owners here in a cat video from Science fking magazine. Get the fk outta here. You love your dog we know, don’t have to shovel it down everyone to agree with you. Jesus fkimg christ

  • Aaron Ortiz Post author

    Great video! small suggestion: if you normalize and compress your audio, it will be understood more easliy. congrats

  • eakthekat Post author

    I taught my cat to play fetch. He is the second one I have taught to fetch a ball
    and bring it to me. Each one had a preference of ball they liked for play time. My female would drop the ball in my hand, while my male will drop it somewhat close to my feet. He will only bring the ball to me, within inches, when highly motivated to play. These cats never met, I didn't have a dog when training either one, and we played inside exclusively. Cats can be trained, but you have to be willing to put in the time to get the desired results.

  • Fa timiau Post author

    The big question is: Why are cats so beautiful?

  • Barbara Williamson Post author

    I love watching @CATMANTOO videos… his cats would put any dog to shame and he is a dog trainer as well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNiL9Hv2V5Q

  • Robert Chase Post author

    "… and then the cat is really freaked out, right?" — don't ask us!

  • Karen Yung Post author

    DONALD JUDAS TRUMP dislikes cats, especially DEMO cats.

  • Seeyay Post author

    Turns out evolution model the brain of gregarious animals and non gregarious animals differently.

  • RedSpiralHand Post author

    Taught one of my cats to sit up and bed, shake paw, roll over and fetch. I did that because my boyfriend kept insisting "you can't teach cats tricks". It was not a tough thing to do at all but also depends upon the cat. Have a cat now that I realized was looking at her reflection in the mirror and she knew it was her reflection and was checking herself out. How old is a human child before they do that?

  • Existenceisillusion Post author

    Having owned cats for many years, I can say with (<95%) confidence that cats are not exceptionally bright (problem solving like humans, chimps, dogs, crows, octopi), and they're also not exceptionally dumb (koalas, many reptiles, etc).

  • Danny Nicastro Post author

    GREAT VIDEO…TRULY! LONGTIME FELINE OWNERS ARE MORE THAN LIKELY ALREADY KNOWING OF ALOT OF THIS INFO. AS FAR AS CATEGORIZING STILL PICS, I SWEAR ONE OF MY CATS DID, ONCE SHE WAS IN HER MATURE YEARS, ABOUT 10,12 Y.O. SHE RECOGNIZED A WELL TAKEN PIC OF OUR LABRADORS FACE. FRIEND TOOK IT WITH A GOOD CAMERA, ENLARGED THE CLOSE UP…N PATCHES KNEW IT WAS RUBY!!! SO. SHE ALSO ENJOYED SITTING ON TOP OF THE OLD CONSOLE TV N WATCHED MANY HOCKEY GAMES WITH HUBBY N I. TRIED N TRIED TO GET THAT PUCK. WE LOAO!!!πŸ˜πŸ˜€πŸ˜†πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜„πŸ•ŠCATS RULE. AS THEY ALWAYS DID N WILL.πŸ±πŸ™€πŸ˜½πŸ˜½πŸ˜½πŸ’—πŸ’”RIP ANGELS….D n H in PhillyPA. Been a long time…they had good ling happy lives. Died in old age, 3. One we gave to a loving new home. They needed what she, did for me. LIFE GOES ON. πŸ™„πŸ˜ΆπŸ˜πŸ€”NOW, WE HAVE AN OSCAR, RIGHT NEXT DOOR…SEE HIM DAILY FOR PETS N HUGS N PLAY!!!πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜„

  • Sreee Legacy Post author

    Is it possible

  • Clifton Patrick Post author

    I've figured out that cats are thinking when they stare as us: 'These humans are so easy to train.' All relationships have at least two frames of reference.

  • the commenter Post author

    And they can also scream like a demonized kid at 2 a.m.

  • TallicaMan1986 Post author

    Oh… this a fairly new video. Odd how this important info isn't more widely watched.

  • Finch Harper Post author

    Ha Ha The Siamese sprayed the wood sheets, wonder if they caight that?

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