Animal Cognition

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 739–743 | Cite as

Domestic cats (Felis catus) do not show causal understanding in a string-pulling task

  • Emma Whitt
  • Marie Douglas
  • Britta OsthausEmail author
  • Ian Hocking
Short Communication


This study explored how domestic cats perform in a horizontal string-pulling task to determine whether they understand this case of physical causality. Fifteen cats were tested on their ability to retrieve an unreachable food treat in three different set-ups: (a) a single baited string, (b) two parallel strings where only one was baited and (c) two crossed strings where only one was baited. All cats succeeded at pulling a single string to obtain a treat, but none consistently chose the correct string when two strings were parallel. When tested with two crossed strings one cat chose the wrong string consistently and all others performed at chance level. There was no evidence that cats understand the function of the strings or their physical causality.


Domestic cats Cognition Means–end String pulling 



The authors would like to thank the RSPCA Little Valley Animal Shelter and the Cats Protection League in Exeter, UK. The experiment complies with the United Kingdom Home Office regulations concerning animal research and welfare as well as the University of Exeter regulations on the use of animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Whitt
    • 1
  • Marie Douglas
    • 2
  • Britta Osthaus
    • 3
    Email author
  • Ian Hocking
    • 3
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.PsychologyCanterbury Christ Church UniversityCanterburyUK

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