This concerns a study on cats carried out by Japanese scientists on ‘incidental memory’. Incidental memory concerns the sort of information that is not deliberately stored in the brain; there is no deliberate attempt to memorise information. In brief, an event occurs and the memory is created and later automatically retrieved when perhaps making a decision as to ‘what’ and ‘where’.
The study concluded that cats have similar abilities in respect of incidental memory to dogs.
The test was as follows:
Cats were led to four open, ‘baited’ containers. Note: I believe the word ‘baited’ in this context means nice, attractive food. The word was coined by the scientists. The cats were allowed to eat from only two of the food containers.
Then the cats were removed from the containers for fifteen minutes during which time the containers were replaced with empty ones.
The cats were then allowed to approach the now empty containers. Initially they explored them randomly. Then they explored the containers from which they had not eaten more thoroughly and for longer than the other two. Note: this indicates that they had memorised which containers they had eaten from and were searching for fresh food in new containers. The cats had used incidental memory to know what to look for and where to look for it.
In a second test two of the four containers held food, one held an inedible object and the third was empty. The cats were allowed to eat from one of the containers holding food. When they returned after fifteen minutes the cats visited more often than by chance the container holding food that they had not eaten from before.
The scientists concluded that cats retrieved and utilised “what” and “where” information from incidental memory. These results they say are similar to findings in dogs.
The online news media have expressed these findings as ‘cats are as intelligent as dogs’. The findings don’t say that. Except that it is nice to see cats coming out on a par with dogs with respect to memory. Memory is very important in our relationship with our companion animals.
The study abstract.