Cats might be smarter than we originally thought.
A new study shows that cats might be pur-fectly capable of mirroring your every move.
In other words, your cat might be a copycat!
A small team of researchers with Eötvös Loránd University’s Department of Ethnology in Budapest have observed a house cat recognizing and then mimicking human behavior. The group wrote a paper describing the observations, and then published it in the scientific journal Animal Cognition.
Claudia Fugazza, an animal behaviorist at the university partnered with a Japanese dog trainer named Fumi Higaki to do the research.
But the study came about in kind of a roundabout way.
Fugazza and Higaki had both been studying an animal training technique called “Do as I Do,” where an animal is trained to perform an action and taught to do it when the trainer speaks the words “do as I do.”
The training progresses until an animal is shown a new behavior, and is prompted to do it with the words “do as I do.” Eventually, the animal learns that the phrase is code for “copy me,” and can mimic any action it hasn’t done before.
Although they had been using the technique with dogs, Higaki suspected that her 11-year-old cat, Ebisu, might also be a good test subject. After all, Ebisu is highly motivated by treats.
As it turned out, Higaki’s cat proved herself a quick learner.
Through 16 trials, Ebisu copied Higaki more than 80 percent of the time, even understanding that she had a head and a hand — or a paw, rather. That suggests that the cat demonstrated the capability of mapping its own body parts to those of another creature.
Fugazza saw this as a success.
“Cat owners should now know that cats may learn a lot by observing their owners,” Fugaza said.
Why is this so surprising?
As it turns out, very few other species have been observed imitating human behavior. So far, according to Fugazza, only apes, dolphins, killer whales, and parrots have shown they can imitate humans.
The new finding comes as such a surprise because cats were not previously thought to possess the necessary cognitive abilities needed to be able to intentionally mimic the actions of other creatures.
And, if our feline friends can do impersonations, maybe lots of other creatures can, too. We just don’t know it yet.
The study did leave some other animal behaviorists scratching their heads, though. And like any other study out there, we need much more research before anything is conclusive.
“Big shoes to fill by one small cat!” Chicago-based cat psychologist Valerie Chalcraft told New York Post.
Another, Claudio Tennie of the University of Tübingen in Germany, pointed out that it doesn’t show whether cats naturally pattern humans, or whether they can learn a skill through the intense technique used.
“So, do I think that cats spontaneously imitate, without training? Unclear,” Tennie said. “Do I think they can be trained to imitate? I wouldn’t be surprised.”