Your cat might really be a physics genius: New study suggests cats have ‘a rudimentary understanding of gravity’

Scientists now believe there’s a bit more going on behind the scenes in his satsuma-sized brain. Cats are generally regarded as adorable, furry little simpletons. Exhibit A, here’s my cat – Humphries – pretending all is well with the world, despite having caught his bowl in his collar, and wearing it like Flava Flav’s clock :

A paper from Kyoto University this week concluded that “this study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity”. Humph sure kept that quiet.

Testing with animals that can’t speak or write equations (no opposable thumbs, y’see) means there are quite a few assumptions in the testing, which involved the rattling of boxes, and 30 cats’ reactions to it.

Here is what the researchers did, and you can make up your own mind as to whether we’ve got a bunch of furry Einsteins on our hands.

A researcher would take a box, either with or without an object in it, and shake it in front of 30 domestic cats. After the shake, the box was tipped up, and whatever was contained within would fall out.

Now obviously, an empty box won’t rattle, which is where the experimenters shook things up a little bit.

Sometimes a sound of rattling was played from within the box, even when it was empty, and on other occasions an object would be in the box but it would be shaken in such a way to avoid making a noise. Treachery!

The researchers then monitored the cats’ reactions to each reveal, and found that cats spent the longest time staring at boxes that made rattling noises – something the researchers credit to cats having an understanding of cause and effect.

In other words, something is in the box (the cause) and it’s making a noise (the effect) and I must have it (being a cat).

However, when a rattling noise was followed by nothing dropping out, the cats would glare at the boxes considerably longer, something the researchers credit to them processing why their assumptions of cause and effect could have been so wrong.

Kyoto University
The image on the left shows staring time during the rattling phase, the right shows the object dropping part

The idea of cats understanding gravity isn’t as far-fetched as it appears, and the researchers noted they wouldn’t be the first non-humans to be aware of it.

“Some nonhuman animals have been shown to respond spontaneously in accordance with gravity (e.g., tamarins: Hood et al 1999 ; dogs: Osthaus et al 2003 ), which suggests that an innate tendency to react in accordance with the gravity rule may be common among mammals,” they write.

But as for being able to explain gravitational waves , or nuclear fusion, probably not – although they could possibly offer personal insight into Schrödinger’s cat , what with their innate love of boxes .

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