Thanks for the Memories… Cats And Their Ability To Remember


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 Köster

10 thoughts on “Thanks for the Memories… Cats And Their Ability To Remember

  1. All my cats choose to remember is where they food dishes are kept. Tell them not to scratch on the furniture or play with the blinds and they act like they have never heard such a silly thing before.

  2. I think they like to chose what they remember and not remember :) …at least my 4 seem to be that way

  3. My cats know their names, what ‘dinner’ and ‘treat’ means, but “No” is a word that apparently isn’t in their vocabularies. As in No (don’t scratch the carpeting), No (don’t beat up on the other cat) and No (do not dump over your water dish so you can splash in the puddle).

  4. mine know what the carrier means and hide everytime i take it out. that’s clearly evidence of memory. i remember a roommate- who used to come home at different times every day. we lived in the top floor of a large apartment building. that cat was at the door 10 minutes before she opened it without fail no matter when she got home. that’s something beyond memory-extra sensory. it’s like she timed when her human got off the subway car, made it the 3 blocks home and climbed all those stairs.

    they recall the people they really like too and theyre qute picky about it. it may be scent memory but it’s still recall.

  5. oh and when they say “monkeys and orangutans” my himalayan wnats to know if they mean humans?

  6. I KNOW our cats have better memories than the article seems to indicate they should. We often comment on how well they remember all sorts of things.

  7. My cats definitely remember much and they also remember the NO command. Cats are infinitely smarter than dogs, humans and other species. After all, who is the one working to take care of the cats ? Mine will perform tricks, feats, etc. but only if there is a reward in it for them. How smart is that ?

  8. I feel dumb posting this but im getting ready to go to Iraq for the next two years. I love my cat like she’s my kid. Can a cat remember there owner after that amount of time or do they forget?

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