Can Your Cat Copy You?

I was recently interviewed by Science about a fascinating new study published this month in the journal Animal Cognition. The study demonstrated that a pet cat was capable of reproducing the actions of their human owner. The cat was trained using the Do as I Do (DAID) training method to repeat behaviors that their owner demonstrated. During the training, the cat learns that if the owner does an action and then says “Do it!” the cat should copy the behavior the owner displayed. So if the owner spins and says “Do it!” the cat should spin as well.

After the DAID training was complete, the cat underwent trials to see if they could mimic their owner’s behaviors toward a box. The owner either touched the box with her hand or rubbed the box with her face. Interestingly, the cat matched the behavior of the owner on 13 out of 16 trials (81%). This provides support that cats have the capacity to mentally represent the body parts and movements of their owner, relate those to their own body, and copy the behavior that was demonstrated. A video of the study’s methods can be viewed here!

Only 1 pet cat was included in this study and this cat already had considerable training experience with their owner. Future research can build off this study to further clarify if the cat’s life experiences, such as socialization to humans, may impact their ability to mimic human behavior. Until then, you can observe your own cat and try to decipher if they watch and copy you.

Kristyn Vitale, PhD

Sources:

Did we find a copycat? Do as I Do in a domestic cat. Fugazza, C., Sommese, A., Miklósi, A. (2020).  Animal Cognition. Read the full study here!

Kitty see, kitty do: cat imitates human, in first scientific demonstration of behavior. Grimm, D. (Sep. 25, 2020). Science. Link to full article here!

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