Science has spoken, after a fashion. Cats are just as proficient on certain memory tests as dogs, according to a new study by scientists in Japan.
That’s telling because, a number of years back, when I asked noted dog expert Stanley Coren the ages-old question — are dogs smarter than cats? — he gave a cagey but nonetheless accurate answer.
Dogs perform better on those tests we humans have devised to measure intelligence, he said. Dogs are not necessarily smarter, in other words; they simply think differently from cats.
The new study from Japan’s Koyoto University was based on a control group of 49 cats, if “control” is the right word.
Kyoto psychologist Saho Takagi found that cats, like dogs, often rely on memories from a single past expertience to modify their behaviour. That suggests they have episodic memory similar to that of humans, and dogs.
Dogs may or may not be smarter overall, but their social skills make them seem to be the personable companions, Coren said. Cats tend to be more aloof, which doesn’t go over well with most people. Dogs are more needy, but that implies a certain intelligence, too, Coren said: Dogs understand that any relationship is based on mutual trust and reciprocity.
Coren is not just another dog fancier and canine know-it-all. He earned a doctorate in psychology from Stanford University. He served as a professor of psychology and a neuropsychological researcher at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) until retiring in 2007, and was director of the school’s Human Neuropsychology and Perception Laboratory for several years. He continues to lecture and conduct occasional research as a professor emeritus at UBC, and moonlights as an instructor at Vancouver’s Dog Obedience Training Club.
So far, no one has had a burning desire to establish a Cat Obedience Training Club, but that doesn’t mean cats are hopeless.
It’s just that, on a fundamental, personal level, they probably perceive obedience training as being beneath them.
Of cats, Coren did say — and this says as much about us and our own biases about our fellow creatures — that because cats have a lithe, lissome way of moving and are supple, graceful and physically adept, they may appear to some onlookers as being brighter than they really are. Pre-judging intelligence by the way an animal moves is a very human concept, Coren said.
Coren has little doubt that cats are very, very smart. It’s just that we haven’t yet figured them out the way we have dogs.
The Japan study isn’t just another an exercise in alternative facts: BBC News reports that the original research has been published in the peer journal Behavioural Processes.
Cats are the Kate Moss pf the animal world, UK Daily Mirror writer Polly Hudson insisted — “aloof, laid-back, nonchalant. They never complain or explain, as they couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of them.”
Then again, dog boosters would argue that caring what your benefactor thinks about you is a mark of intelligence in itself.
Either way, one thing is now certain, thanks to the research. Cats have been proven to have just as long memories as dogs.