The Fe­line Prow­ess

Cats are smarter than we think

Clubpets - - SCRATCHING POST -

House­hold fe­lines some­times demon­strate enor­mous in­tel­li­gence, such as when they learn how to open doors. How­ever, they some­times make ques­tion­able choices such as chas­ing a laser pointer. So ex­actly how smart are they?

Putting catel­li­gence to the test

Mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion, fol­lowed up by tens of thou­sands in the com­pany of hu­mans, have in­stilled cats with some par­tic­u­lar traits and mental skills. Fe­lines have proven over time to be an in­tel­li­gent bunch. Many cats can open doors and learn tricks. A quick search on Youtube would re­veal cats ac­com­plish­ing amaz­ing feats — such as ac­tu­ally know­ing how to use the fam­ily toi­let and flush­ing it af­ter ev­ery visit.

One thing we do know is that cats are not in­com­pe­tent by any stretch. Their brains, though small, oc­cupy about 0.9 per­cent of their body mass, com­pared to 1.2 per­cent for the av­er­age dog. In fact, a cat’s com­plex cere­bral cor­tex, the part of the brain re­spon­si­ble for in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing, con­tains about twice as many neu­rons as that of dogs. This is the area of the brain that in­ter­prets in­for­ma­tion, lan­guage, ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion mak­ing, and com­plex prob­lem-solv­ing.

How does in­tel­li­gence af­fect your cat’s world per­cep­tion?

Cats learn by trial and er­ror, ob­ser­va­tion and im­i­ta­tion. Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, cu­rios­ity does not kill the cat — it just makes him smarter. If you put a cat in a strange room, he will cau­tiously check out ev­ery cor­ner. This in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­vides him with valu­able in­for­ma­tion about his sur­round­ings. Kit­tens need no train­ing to use a lit­ter box and cover up their waste; once they un­der­stand where the lit­ter box is, they will seek it out from then on.

On top of all that, a cat’s learn­ing abil­i­ties are aided by a good mem­ory. A cat has an enor­mous mem­ory, bet­ter than that of mon­keys, orang­utans and, yes, even dogs, which brings us to our next ques­tion.

Are cats smarter than dogs, or even us?

There are never-end­ing dis­putes be­tween dog peo­ple and cat peo­ple over who has the smartest pet.

Is it true that dogs are smarter than cats? Or are they ul­ti­mately out­smart­ing all of us hu­mans? On the one hand, dogs are pack an­i­mals that have a strong need to fol­low and please their “top” dog (the hu­man they per­ceive as the leader). On the other hand, the cat is a lone wolf that ex­hibits clev­er­ness and adapt­abil­ity in just about any cir­cum­stance. Ac­cord­ing to Psy­chol­ogy To­day, an­i­mals who live in groups are al­ways more in­tel­li­gent than soli­tary an­i­mals. Hence, dogs are smarter and more so­cia­ble than cats.

Now that we have got­ten ca­nines cov­ered, what about us homo sapi­ens? The brains of cats have a sur­face fold­ing and struc­ture that is very sim­i­lar to that of the hu­man brain, about ninety per­cent sim­i­lar to be ex­act. Mor­pho­log­i­cally, both cat brains and hu­man brains have cere­bral cor­tices with sim­i­lar lobes.

What about train­ing cats to do tricks?

As cats are not known to be trained for search and res­cue, po­lice work, or bomb sniff­ing, most peo­ple jump to con­clud­ing to say that cats are in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­ca­pable of such com­plex un­der­tak­ings. So can they pos­si­bly be as good as these tasks as their ca­nine coun­ter­parts? The an­swer may sur­prise you. Once at­tained, even if by ac­ci­dent or trial and er­ror, a cat’s knowl­edge is re­tained for life, thanks to the cat’s ex­cel­lent mem­ory. Even hunt­ing tech­niques buried un­der years of ne­glect in the well-fed house cat’s brain will be re­called with ease should the fe­line, for some rea­son, ever have to fend for it­self.

Al­though they will not per­form for pats on the head and “good-cat” praise from their own­ers, some fe­lines, if prop­erly mo­ti­vated, can be trained to do a wide va­ri­ety of tricks that range from open­ing doors to jump­ing through hoops. In what psy­chol­o­gists call op­er­ant con­di­tion­ing, a cat will re­peat a par­tic­u­lar be­hav­iour for a food re­ward. From this, we say that cats can in­deed be trained to make use of a toi­let.

Cat train­ing is best achieved if the de­sired be­hav­iour is fun for the cat, even more so if the per­son do­ing the train­ing is its usual food provider. Af­ter all, even large wild­cats such as lions and tigers have per­formed in cir­cuses for cen­turies.

Clicker train­ing is one po­ten­tial method by which a cat can be trained. This form of train­ing is a good ex­am­ple of op­er­ant con­di­tion­ing, in which your cat learns a be­hav­iour through the use of a re­ward in re­sponse to the per­for­mance of the be­hav­iour.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.