Some highly intelligent cats are able to recognize and mimic human actions on command – even better than some dogs – according to a study.
Hungarian researchers worked with an 11-year-old kitten named Ebisu, who was taught to copy by her dog-trainer owner using the so-called ‘do as I do’ method.
This is a long-standing dog training regimen in which the trainer says a command (ie “Do like me!”) Before taking a particular action.
The trainer then goes on with a second command (eg, “Do it!”) To invite the animal to imitate the displayed action in order to get a reward – like a treat.
Very few animals are able to perform the cat-copy trick – although, alongside dogs, it has also been observed in monkeys, dolphins and killer whales.
However, this is the first time that such behavior has been formally observed in a cat and written down in the scientific literature, the team said.
Nonetheless, the researchers believe that this ability in cats is probably not limited to Ebisu.
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Some highly intelligent cats are able to recognize and mimic human actions on command – even better than some dogs – according to a study. In the photo, Ebisu the cat watches his owner, Fumi Higaki, in preparation to repeat the latter’s action
Hungarian researchers worked with an 11-year-old kitten named Ebisu, who was taught to copy by her dog-trainer owner using the so-called ‘do as I do’ method. Pictured: After owner Fumi Higaki rubs her face against a cardboard box (left), Ebisu does the same (right)
“Our experience provides the first evidence that the Do as I Do paradigm can be applied to cats,” Eötvös Loránd University animal behavior expert Claudia Fugazza and colleagues wrote in their article.
“ Based on the cat’s performance, we claim that she has the ability to map the different body parts and movements of the human demonstrator into their own body parts and movements, at least to some extent, ” a added the team.
“ The ability to reproduce the actions of a [human] in well-socialized cats could pave the way for future studies of cat imitation skills.
Dr Fugazza first met Ebisu’s owner – Ichinomiya, Japan, resident and dog trainer Fumi Higaki – as a result of her work on canine cognition.
When Ms Higaki told the researcher that she had also trained Ebisu – who she added had always been ‘exceptionally motivated for food’, which made her ideal for teaching – Dr Fugazza was anxious to see the behavior, reported Gizmodo.
In fact, Ebisu only took five months to master imitation, Ms Higaki told the team.
As a result of 18 tests – which the researchers recorded at a slight distance from Ebisu, who is wary of strangers – they found that the cat managed to mimic Ms Higaki’s behavior when invited 81% of the time. time.
Actions Ebisu emulated included spinning, touching a toy or cardboard box, opening a small drawer, or lying down.
The team noted that when Ms. Higaki did actions that weren’t particularly cat-like – like raising both hands in the air – Ebisu was able to figure out how to perform a similar maneuver (like holding herself on its hind legs with its front legs up).
The advantage of the “ Do what I do ” approach is that it breaks the process down into two distinct stages – helping to mitigate the possibility that Ebisu may only appear to be imitating its owner, but in fact reacting to non-verbal signals.
“In studies where the ‘two actions’ method is used, spotting is controlled, because different actions are demonstrated on the same object,” Dr Fugazza told Gizmodo.
“In this case, even if the demonstrator gave a visual signal to send the animal in the direction of the given object, the signal still wouldn’t tell the animal what action to do there,” she explained.
“These are untrained actions, so they cannot be commanded by a signal – because there is no signal previously associated with them.
“Our experience provides the first evidence that the Do as I Do paradigm can be applied to cats,” Eötvös Loránd University animal behavior expert Claudia Fugazza and colleagues wrote in their article. Pictured: After owner Fumi Higaki touches a cardboard box (left), Ebisu does the same (right)
Sadly, Ebisu died in early 2019 – shortly after performing for the researchers – from kidney disease.
However, Dr Fugazza is hopeful that other felines can be trained similarly in the future – so researchers can study the ability to mimic on a wider range of cats of ages, breeds and familiarity. different with the person they are copying.
“I hope someone takes up the challenge to do it, but I am also aware of the difficulties and the time it takes to train cats,” Dr Fugazza told Gizmodo.
“So I think it’s a question of time and resources,” she concluded.
The full results of the study were published in the journal Animal Cognition.
THE MIRROR TEST – ANOTHER METHOD OF EXAMINING ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE
The mirror test was developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr in 1970 as a method to determine whether a non-human animal has the ability to recognize itself.
It is also known as “brand test” or “mirror self-recognition test” (MSR).
When testing the mirror, scientists place visual markings on an animal’s body, usually with odorless paints, dyes, or stickers.
They then observe what happens when the marked animal is placed in front of a mirror.
The researchers compare the animal’s reaction to other times when the animal saw itself in the mirror without any marks on its body.
Animals that pass the mirror test will usually adjust their position to better see the new mark on their body, and may even touch it or try to remove it.
They usually pay much more attention to the part of their body that is being branded again.
Even if an animal does not pass the test, it can still have interesting reactions to its thoughts.
Many species react aggressively or even show affectionate behavior. In such cases, the animal may confuse its reflection with one of its kind. This can lead to some fun sites for human observers.
Humans can take the mirror test when they are around 18 months old. But how are other animals doing?
Currently, a number of animal species have passed the mirror test. Not all individuals of each species pass, but many do.
Animals that have passed the test include:
- Asian elephants
- The great apes
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Orc whales
- Eurasian Magpies