Simplified experiments to check your cat’s social intelligence

Testing domestic cat social cognition

Testing domestic cat social cognition. Screenshot.

This table comes from the website. I feel the need to reproduce it verbatim in the interests of accuracy. It is a way of testing social intelligence in cats. It has been found that domestic cats are more socially intelligent than once was thought, but sadly they cling to their reputation as social misfits in social media articles. But this is misleading and unfair. The cat should be relaxed and calm before these tests are conducted.

Note: the table below can be read on smartphones by turning the device through 90 degrees and viewing it in horizontal mode!

Does your cat know its name?When your cat is calm, say four words of about the same length and accent as its name, waiting 15 seconds between words. Then, say its name.If your cat gradually reacts less to each random word, but responds to its name by turning its head toward you, rotating its ears, or moving its tail, it probably “knows” its name.It may be easier to train a cat that knows its name, for example when using verbal commands like, “Sit!”
Is your cat tuned in to your emotions?Take your cat into a room with a potentially frightening object it has never seen before, like a robot vacuum. Sit calmly on the floor with your cat, then make friends with the object, saying “what a nice vacuum” in a calm, friendly voice. Approach the object and touch it.If your cat is initially freaked out but calms down—and even approaches the object—after you make friends with it, your cat likely can pick up on your emotional cues and alter its behavior in kind.Your mood can influence your cat’s mood. So, if you’re calm and chipper at the vet’s office, it may stay calm as well.
How independent is your cat?Sit in a room with your cat. Ignore it, sitting quietly or paying attention to a book or phone, for 2 minutes. Then, try to interact with your cat—call it to you. If it comes, pet and talk to it.Highly social cats immediately come to you when you begin to pay attention to them, whereas more independent cats keep their distance.If your cat tends to be antisocial, try spending more time with it. Like humans, cats can become more friendly if we make extra effort.
Does your cat prefer you—or food?Pick a few items you think your cat may enjoy, such as treats and toys. Set them on the ground, sit nearby, and see where your cat lingers.Your cat prefers whatever it spends the most time with. But it may just be hungry. Repeat the experiment in varied situations to be sure of its preferences.If your cat prefers you to toys or treats, the best incentive when training or rewarding it may be your presence.


Video about cats and social cognition – how they relate us as human beings

It is widely known that people know less about cats than dogs as their social cognition as the scientists call it is much harder to study in the laboratory setting as the video explains. Cats have been left behind in respect of scientific studies. They say that few species understand what human pointing means but in one study by ethologist Péter Pongrácz, a colleague of Miklósi’s at Eötvös Loránd they simply gazed at an object even for a split second and found that cats followed their gaze 70% of the time, which was a similar success rate to that of dogs. As cats rarely gaze at each other because it is seen as a sign of hostility (that’s what humans believe anyway) it was surprising that cats follow the gaze in this way. Incidentally, my cat does gaze at me and I gaze at him and there are no issues about it. So, I’m not entirely convinced about this association between hostility and gaze when it comes to interacting with cats.

Despite the above, cats don’t pass social intelligence tests as well as dogs. This is because the dog has been domesticated for perhaps around twice as long as the domestic cat and dogs were pretty well exclusively working dogs for thousands of years, which better integrated their behaviour in two hours. Also, tests in laboratory settings, as mentioned, don’t suit domestic cats. They are not good at doing social intelligence tests under laboratory conditions. It stresses them and freaks them out. They tend to wander off. Despite this barrier, some cats do pass the tests which suggests that it is inherent in them. It’s just a question of trying to get them calm down so that they can perform to their abilities.

There is a recent study about cats picking up on visual illusions (optical illusions) just like people, which is another example of how the domestic cat think like humans. It is the reason why they sit in marked out squares on the floor. The scientists are still doing tests to find out whether the social intelligence of cats and dogs is more advanced than that of other domesticated animals. One scientist, Vitale, is cautiously optimistic about cats’ social cognition. She says that “Cats are now where dogs were a couple of decades ago. I hope researchers give them a chance to show what they can do.”

The belief among many people is still that domestic cats are selfish and independent. New results in studies “are pushing back on that” belief said Péter Pongrácz, Eötvös Loránd University.


Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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