Cats May Have a More 'Profound Mind' Than We Thought

Research shows cats track their owners' movements around the house
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2021 10:31 AM CST
Updated Nov 14, 2021 1:45 PM CST
Cats May Have a More 'Profound Mind' Than We Thought
They always seem to know where you are.   (Getty Images/iprogressman)

If you've ever sensed that your aloof cat, who appears to ignore you, nevertheless seems to know just where you are at all times, you may be onto something. A new study out of Japan shows that cats may actually track their owners as they move around the house, keeping tabs on where their humans are even when they can no longer see them. This research on "socio-spatial cognition," published Wednesday in the PLOS One journal, suggests cats may understand a form of object permanence, a concept human babies usually wrap their minds around before they're a year old.

To test how this concept plays out in the feline world, researchers from Kyoto University and Sophia University placed 50 domestic cats, one at a time, in a room, then played a recording of their owner's voice coming from outside the room. Next, the scientists played a recording that came from a speaker placed in the same room as the cat, with either their owner or a stranger calling out their name. Observations of the cats' head and ear movements showed that the cats seemed unfazed when it was a stranger's voice coming from inside the same room—but confused and surprised when it was their owner's voice, as if their owner had suddenly "teleported" from the adjoining room.

"[It suggests] that cats have the ability to picture the invisible in their minds. Cats [may] have a more profound mind than is thought," study co-author Dr. Saho Takagi tells the Guardian, which notes the research hints at cats' ability for higher-level cognitive functioning like imagining and planning. The study also (somewhat) dashes the theory that cats couldn't care less about the humans they live with, even if it's simply for utilitarian reasons. "A cat's owner is extremely significant in its life as a source of food and security, so where we are is very important," a UK feline behaviorist tells the outlet. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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