Cats Understand Physics? Study Suggests Felines May Be Furry Geniuses

Cats are more than just ready-made YouTube sensations; a recent study suggests they also understand the laws of physics. According to Science Daily, researchers from Kyoto University in Japan previously conducted experiments that determined cats can predict the presence of invisible objects based on sound.

“In the present study, the researchers wanted to find out if cats use a causal rule to infer if a container holds an object, based on whether it is shaken along with a sound or not. The team also wanted to establish if cats expect an object to fall out or not, once the container is turned over.”

As revealed by Saho Takagi, the lead researcher, there were four conditions created for the 30 cats used in the study.

“Thirty domestic cats were videotaped while an experimenter shook a container. In some cases this action went along with a rattling sound. In others it did not, to simulate that the vessel was empty. After the shaking phase, the container was turned over, either with an object dropping down or not.”

It was the two instances where results took unexpected turns where things became interesting. Takagi shared that cats tended to stare longer at containers that defied explanation — containers that made rattling noises but produced no object or containers that were silent but had something inside. The cats seemed to understand that sound, or a lack of sound, should produce a particular outcome. When something defied these expectations, cats became wary.

Image courtesy of Sean Gallup, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Sean Gallup, Getty Images

“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” Takagi stated in a press release.

Chances are, your average house cat has never heard of Sir Isaac Newton or his famous Third Law of Physics. Yet if you told the cat, “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” their response — if they could talk — would probably be something along the lines of “Duh!”

It seems we’ve taken for granted just how well cats understand the concept of cause and effect. This knowledge is the key to why your cat knows what to expect by jumping on your still-sleeping body in the morning. All it has to do is sit on your chest and paw at your face and eventually you’ll feel obligated to get up and feed them. Mission accomplished.

The cat’s basic grasp on physics also explains why cats are freaked out by all those “magic cucumbers” sneaking up behind them.

This mean prank is a lot of fun to you, but it’s breaking the laws of physics as your cat understands it. It’s this same type of defied expectations that had the experiment cats staring so long at containers where objects appeared despite a lack of associated noise. Such surprises could prove dangerous — and that’s something a cat is conditioned by nature to watch out for.

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Science Daily notes, “The ecology of cats’ natural hunting style may therefore also favor the ability for inference on the basis of sounds.”

Saho Takagi made a similar point, sharing that “hunting cats often need to infer the location or the distance of their prey from sounds alone.” The reason is that cats often do their hunting in places where visibility is low. And so sounds of any kind become crucial.

“When animals perceive incomplete information, they may have to complete the remaining parts from other available clues.”

Research attempting to understand cats and their use of physics are ongoing; this experiment is just the latest in a series. Researchers revealed they soon hope to learn exactly what’s happening in a cat’s brain when it reacts to sound cues. They’d also like to determine precisely what information cats extract from a particular noise.

In the meantime, we can discuss the most important takeaway from this revelation about our furry friends: Are cats unacknowledged geniuses who understand the world better than we think? Share your thoughts (and favorite cat pictures) below!

[Photo by Chris Jackson – WPA Pool/Getty Images]