Researchers at the City University of New York have set themselves the goal of finding out how domestic cats perceive this world. More precisely, the scientists were interested in a specific feature of the behavior of these animals: an inexplicable passion for boxes. Even non-existent.
Let us explain that the researchers paid attention to the everyday observations of the owners of these graceful, but sometimes strange animals. Cat owners sometimes note that their pets tend to take a place not only in secluded places like a box or bag. Even if you draw a small square on the floor, cats often sit right in the center of it.
Scientists asked the question: what kind of outlines can attract cats to a certain place? That is, to what extent cats can visually perceive the figure as a square (so similar to the outline of a box).
The known difficulties of cats in adapting to a new place (for example, a scientific laboratory) forced scientists to choose a non-standard way of conducting research. They turned to the practice of civic science, in which the conduct of research is entrusted to volunteers without professional scientific training.
So, scientists were able to conduct their research remotely, describing the necessary process of preparing and conducting the experiment to volunteer cat owners. Thus, cats and cats remained in their familiar home environment and could demonstrate to scientists their natural behavior.
Despite the fact that initially more than 500 animals took part in the study, only 30 owners were able to prove that they deserve the title of “citizen scientist”. These people managed to conduct a scientific experiment correctly, without violating any standards for its design. It was their results that were taken into account in the final work.
Researchers chose Gaetano Canizza’s optical illusion to explore the boundaries of feline visual perception. This illusion arises from illusory contours: the special arrangement of the figures makes a person (or a cat) see the boundaries of an object that does not exist, even if they do not differ in color from the background.
In this study, the Canizza illusion, depicting a square, was used. Four rounded figures resembling the silhouette of Pacman (a video game character) seem to be looking at the center of an illusory square, indicating its corners.
The experiment consisted of giving the cat a choice of three objects on the floor: a square of duct tape, the illusion of the Canizza square, and a control object. The latter represented the same four components of the illusion, however, positioned so as not to create an illusory outline.
The owners videotaped the experiment. As a result, scientists have found out an amazing thing: cats were equally eager to sit both in a “real” square with clear borders made of scotch tape and in the illusory square of Canizza. But the “broken” illusion attracted the attention of the tailed beasts much less often.
Of course, scientists note that unsatisfactory few volunteers were able to participate in the study. However, the results of this work complement the results of previous studies of feline perception. Cats have a really well-developed perception of the contours and boundaries of objects, which may well be an evolutionary adaptation to hunting, which cats often lead from ambush.
Scientists have not yet been able to come to a consensus about the phenomenal love of felines (yes, and big cats too) for boxes. However, boxing is known to significantly reduce the stress of cats admitted to shelter. That is, the presence of a sufficiently close shelter causes some kind of psychological relief and a feeling of comfort in cats.
What is especially surprising, apparently, cats are pleased to be even within the conventional boundaries of the “imaginary” box. This is an amazing property of the brain for a small animal … roughly speaking, to fantasize. Although it is too early to draw such high-profile conclusions.
The new study has been published in the scientific journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.
It fills an existing gap in the study of feline behavior, whose psychology is usually far less interested in the psychology of scientists than in the psychology of dogs. Also, this work is an example of the successful application of the methods of civil science.