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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Britta Osthaus.

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Whitt, E., Douglas, M., Osthaus, B. et al. Domestic cats (Felis catus) do not show causal understanding in a string-pulling task. Anim Cogn 12, 739–743 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-009-0228-x

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Keywords

  • Domestic cats
  • Cognition
  • Means–end
  • String pulling