A new study that measured cats’ memories of their recent movements has concluded that they remember what they do much longer than they remember what they see. According to the scientists who conducted the research, further investigation of this phenomenon might lead to a greater understanding of the way in which humans, as well as animals, manage to remember the position of objects in their environment, even as they move relative to those objects.
The two-part experiment was conducted by David A. McVea and Keir G. Pearson from the Department of Physiology at the University of Alberta, Canada.
First, they stopped the cats’ walking after their forelegs, but not their hind legs, had cleared an obstacle. They distracted the cats with food while they lowered the object into the walking surface, and then allowed them to resume walking. The cats remembered the obstacle and raised their hind legs to step over it, even though it was no longer there. They retained the memory for up to 10 minutes. This surprised the scientists, since short-term memories about objects tend to fade away in less than a minute.
“We began to think about what could make this memory special or different, and realized that one possibility was that the stepping of the forelegs over the object could engage a specialized part of the brain to preserve the memory of the object until the time when the hind legs had to step over the object,” said McVea.
In the second part of the experiment, the cats were halted before their forelegs had cleared the obstacle. Once again, they distracted the cats and removed the obstacle, but in this exercise, the cats forgot that it had ever been there and proceeded on their way without attempting to step over the phantom object. The scientists concluded that visual memory alone was limited to just a few seconds.
Although this particular study deals with short-term memory regarding objects, other studies suggest that cats have among the best memories in the animal kingdom.
A test comparing memory retention of cats versus dogs (that age old rivalry) was conducted by Dr. Maier, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and Dr. Schneirla, curator at the Dept. of Animal Behavior, American Museum of Natural History. Both species were shown a number of boxes and taught that food could only be found under one box with a lighted lamp on top. When the training was completed, researchers lighted the lamp briefly. To test the animal’s memory, the researchers prevented them from going to the box for a period of time. Cats returned to the correct box as much as 16 hours later, exhibiting a power of recall superior to that of monkeys and orangutans. The dogs’ recall lasted no more than five minutes.
Source: Live Science
Photo: Fabian KÃ¶ster