Cats are not nearly as smart as dogs, at least in terms of understanding cause and effect of relationships, says a psychology expert from Britain.
Dr. Britta Osthaus, a lecturer from the Applied Social Sciences department at Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury, England, carried out series of experiments and tested the intelligence of domestic cats in order to determine their processes of thinking as well as how they perceive the world around them.
For the study purposes, Dr. Osthaus tested the cats on their ability to get an unreachable food treat from under a plastic screen. Three different scenarios have been used, including just one string that was baited; two parallel stings where only one was baited, and finally, two crossed strings, among which only one was baited.
During one of the experiments, Dr. Osthaus placed fish and biscuit treats to one end of a string and tested fifteen domestic cats to find if they could understand that pulling on one end of the string would bring the treat closer. She psychologist revealed that there was absolutely nothing to indicate that the animals understood the purpose of strings or their physical causality. All cats successfully performed when it came to pulling a single string to retrieve a food but, unlike dogs, none of them consistently selected the needed string when two strings were parallel. In a third test that involved crossed strings, one cat was constantly selecting the wrong string, while all the rest performed at chance level.
According to Dr. Osthaus, this new finding is very surprising because it has been known that cats regularly use their paws and claws to pull things towards them while playing and hunting. "They performed even worse than dogs, which can at least solve the parallel string task," the expert said.
The study is important in demonstrating the limits of feline intelligence. Osthaus said that if people knew the limits of their pets, they would not expect too much from them, which is in turn critical for their welfare. The finding is also important as it found that the cognitive abilities of cats are different to those of dogs, although both species are hunters and both species are domesticated.
Sharon Hogben from Cats Protection in Canterbury, said that the results of the tests were a big surprise but she argued that cats are very individual animals, with less tendency to please their owners, when compared to dogs. Dogs, in her words, are pack animals, and want to please their peers and owners. "Cats in good health are far from stupid though, they are keenly tuned to their owner's habits and can read their everyday behavior - like when they get up, when they get home from work or when it is time to have dinner.
Hogben said that in spite of the fact that humans have had a huge impact on the behavior of cats, it is still not easy to understand them or how they percieve the world around them. Cats are very intuitive animals and like to do things their own way. In adition, they are not very social animals and just would not take to this kind of artificial set-up as well as dogs, she concluded.