Cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, according to a new Japanese study published in the journal Behavioural Processes. The study findings suggest that cats are just as smart as dogs, researchers say.
The study was conducted using 49 domestic cats and different bowls of food. The findings shows that cats can recall memories of positive experiences, such as eating a delicious snack. The experiment was a test of episodic memory, or memory of past events and experiences that occur at a particular time and place. It was modeled off of a similar 2012 study conducted on dogs.
Kyoto University psychologist Saho Takagi told BBC News that both cats and dogs may have episodic memory similar to that of humans. “Episodic memory is viewed as being related to introspective function of the mind,” Takagi said. “Our study may imply a type of consciousness in cats.”
A Feline Study
In one phase of the experiment, cats were led to four open containers of food, and were permitted to eat from two of them. After fifteen minutes passed, the containers were replaced with empty ones, and the same cats returned to the room in search of food. Here, researchers found that they spent more time exploring those containers from which they had already eaten than others.
That cats were able to remember “what” and “where” information about the food bowls suggests they have episodic memory. Still, it’s unclear whether cats can experience past memories in the same depth that humans do.
“It’s hard to know if the cats actually subjectively remember the experience of going to that particular bowl, such as the colors and the sounds,” Nick Diamond told TFK. He is a researcher at the University of Toronto and Rotman Research Institute. “So when we study [episodic memory] in animals, scientists tend to boil it down to the what, the where, and the when without getting into the experience of what the animal is remembering, which is certainly tough to figure out.”
Still, the study’s results may have practical applications. “It opens the door to new studies examining how long cats’ memories can be,” Yale University Professor Laurie Santos told BBC News, “and whether they also remember richer episodes in their own life as humans do.”