Sunday cat fun

September 2, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Cat poster - GreeceNew Scientist (August 25 2007, 2618) has an article on how cats learn by doing, not seeing. Keir Pearson and David McVea at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, have been studying how cats know to raise their rear legs when stepping over barriers without looking back. I’ve always noted this about cats – the elegant flick of the hind leg to avoid stepping into some nasty mess that the fastidious feline prefers to bypass.

The academics have been looking at how animals, including humans, navigate complex environments and how we remember the location of objects as we move around. Over a 2 year period, cats were faced with barriers and objects like bowls to test whether their visual memory or working memory was at play. Despite cats being able to see in the dark, the study showed that memories involving actions are retained better for cats than those involving sight. Ergo cats learn by doing.

The cat would encounter a bowl for example and the researchers would stop the cats after they had stepped over the object with their front legs, but before they’d stepped over it with their hind legs. (Sure hope the researchers were ready for the cat scratches because cats can get a little narky if you interfere with them!). Then the bowl was taken away and minutes later the cat would make the movement of stepping over the now disappeared bowl. Seems the length of the memory might be about 10 minutes – could be longer, but the researchers had trouble keeping kitty amused for any longer. When compared with seeing an object in front of them, the cats’ memory only seemed to last a few seconds implying that the action of moving the back legs embedded a longer-term memory.

Now, I wonder what all these felines would have to say? Part of all the LOL cats fun they’re continually having over at Boing Boing. It’s an interactive chart – click on the image below and have some fun.

Boing Boing LOL cat chart

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Entry filed under: Animals, Science.

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