Cat cognition: Just how keen is your kitty?

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16 July 2020
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As a cat owner, you will know exactly how smart your kitty is. He or she will display this every day through their behaviour — whether this is by opening doors or getting into their treat supply. While non-cat owners may often scoff at your claims, there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence to back up claims of feline intelligence.  

The research done on cat cognition is still limited (particularly compared to dogs) because most scientists have found that cats aren’t all that fond of sitting still or following instructions, even in a laboratory setting. Despite this, scientists have managed to gather some evidence on feline intelligence.

The facts are certainly interesting – but if you are well-versed in your kitty’s cleverness – not altogether shocking. Let’s take a look at the evidence to find out if you’ve been right about your cat’s smarts all along.

Cats are sensitive to human responses and emotions

One sign of intelligence is being able to use their instinct to work out what is going on, particularly based on other people’s responses to the situation. Well, cats appear to be quite good at this. When kitties are placed in an unfamiliar or potentially threatening situation, they will look to their human.

Their response to the situation will be based on how their owner is behaving. This isn’t the only evidence, though. Researchers have also found that cats are sensitive to their owner’s moods. They are aware of when they are upset and will be more likely to console them.

Cats are also able to detect when some individuals are more introverted than others. They will be more likely to interact with these people. This capability is just one of the reasons that cats provide such great emotional support.

In the United States, if you have certain mental health or emotional health requirements, you may want to consider registering your cat as an official Emotional Support Animal with a relevant agency. This means that your cat will be officially recognised as support you and you may be able to enjoy certain benefits associated with an ESA companion, such as being able to take your cat with you to places they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to go.

Cats display learning behaviour

Cats will pick up a few new skills if you find the right reward system. Although often, kitties aren’t all that focused on impressing people and prefer doing their own thing, for their own motivations.

Despite this, it does appear that cats are capable of learning new skills and behaviours. For one thing, felines are excellent at considering the environment around them and calculating how to respond. They often use existing knowledge to work their way out of a situation.

Cats are also able to make associations between certain behaviours and consequences. As such, they will exhibit the required behaviour if they are certain that it will result in a reward. In this way, they can be conditioned to various cues.

This isn’t all, cats can engage in observational learning as well. This means that they pay attention to what others are doing and then mimic these behaviors as necessary. While this is most common when they observe another cat, they can pick up on certain behaviours from the humans around them as well.  

These traits don’t just point to learning, however. It is also a strong indicator that cats can remember important behaviors. So, once they have established that they will be rewarded, they will continue to exhibit a particular behaviour.

Cat and human brains have similarities

The best proof that your kitty is quite smart is the fact that cat and human brains do have some similarities in structure! Cat brains have more in common with humans than with dogs.

Like humans, feline brains are also composed of grey and white matter. Furthermore, they have temporal, occipital, frontal, and parietal lobes in their cerebral cortex. All these regions are connected in the same way as they are in humans.

Cats also have similar neurotransmitters to humans. Due to this, their thinking patterns are similar to ours. Cats will receive information through one of their five senses and then interpret this data in a relevant manner.

Furthermore, while cats have smaller brains than people, it doesn’t mean that they process less information than humans. In reality, a cat’s brain has 1000 times more data storage than an iPad.

When IBM built a supercomputer that was meant to simulate the brain of a cat, they required nearly 25,000 processors. Thus, there is nothing simplistic about a cat’s brain, regardless of how small it is.

So, if you have ever felt like you and your feisty feline were on the same wavelength, you were probably on the right track. Most things that cats do have meaning behind them. So, the next time someone tries to tell you that your kitty’s spark of genius was a “fluke”, you now know otherwise.

The potential of future studies

As mentioned, the studies on cat intelligence are rather limited. Hopefully, though, this will soon change. Since more people are becoming cat owners, there is sure to be a renewed interest in feline cognition. After all, most humans would love to understand their kitties a little more.

There is also the fact that technology and the tools for testing cats are evolving. This means that scientists may be able to glean more information from these sly felines, even if they aren’t all that inclined to give up their secrets. Who knows what more there is to uncover!

So, there you have it, here is what you need to know about how smart your cat is. As you can see, felines are far more intelligent than many people give them credit for. They are capable of learning, remembering, and even picking up on cues.

They also have an enormous capacity for storing new information and figuring out the world around them. The only sad part is that most kitties will often keep their tricks close to the chest until they feel like revealing their hidden depths. All you can do is wait in anticipation for this moment!