Cats Are Divas Who Refuse to Cooperate With Scientists

Illustration for article titled Cats Are Divas Who Refuse to Cooperate With Scientists

Are cats geniuses? No doubt you believe firmly in Fluffy's dolphin-like IQ, but it turns out that science just doesn't have a very good sense of how intelligent cats really are. Because cats are as cooperative with scientists as they are with the rest of us puny humans.


David Grimm is the author of the newly released Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs. He writes in Slate that he wanted to include cats in a chapter on pet IQ, but found himself confronted with a dearth of useful research. He dug deeper and discovered that's due in no small part to the fact that cats are really, really hard to study.

It seems a lot of scientists just laughed in Grimm's face when he asked about cats' intelligence, because cats are such impossible divas. "We did one study on cats—and that was enough!" Ádám Miklósi, an animal cognition expert, told him. University of Padova comparative psychologist Christian Agrillo had a similar reaction: "I can assure you that it's easier to work with fish than cats."

Take Agrillo's studies. His team created a series of tests designed to suss out "numerical competence," to see whether cats could tell the difference between three dots and one dot. It was a big, fat bust:

When owners brought their cats over, most of the felines freaked out. Even the docile ones displayed little interest in the test. Ultimately, Agrillo wound up with just four cats—and even they were a pain to work with. "Very often, they didn't participate in the experiment or they walked in the wrong direction," he told me. "It was really difficult to have a good trial each day."


Definitely click through to the Slate article for all the nuances, but it seems scientists just haven't found a very effective way to study cats' brains yet. Dogs have lived with humans so long they're simply easier to communicate with. Dogs pay attention to us. Cats, on the other hand, are far likelier to simply check out. But that's why we love them, right?

Photo via Shutterstock.