Natures wonders: cats intrpret sound (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Sunday, June 26, 2016, 21:24 (1340 days ago) @ David Turell

Cats are great hunters and use sight and sound. In this study a rattled box was used and turned over to drop out the supposed contents:

The Abstract: "We used an expectancy violation procedure to ask whether cats could use a causal rule to infer the presence of an unseen object on hearing the noise it made inside a container and predict its appearance when the container was turned over. We presented cats with either an object dropping out of an opaque container or no object dropping out (turning-over phase) after producing either a rattling sound by shaking the container with the object inside, or no sound (shaking phase). The cats were then allowed to freely explore the experimental environment (exploration phase). The relation between the sound and the object matched with physical laws in half of the trials (congruent condition) and mismatched in the other half (incongruent condition). Inferring the presence of an unseen object from the noise was predicted to result in longer looking time in the incongruent condition. The prediction was supported by the cats' behavior during the turning-over phase. The results suggest that cats used a causal-logical understanding of auditory stimuli to predict the appearance of invisible objects. The ecology of cats' natural hunting style may favor the ability for inference on the basis of sounds.


Call (2004) tested great apes for their ability to infer the presence of a reward from visual and auditory information. The auditory information was noises made as the reward moved in a container. Although all apes passed the visual test, only a few passed the auditory test. Similar results have been obtained in other nonhuman primate species (see Takagi et al. 2015 for more detailed information on subjects passing the auditory test). In contrast to our expectation, causal reasoning based on noises seems much less developed in primates than that based on visual information.

Several researchers have suggested that causal understanding in the auditory domain may be related to the ecological importance of auditory information for each species (Maille and Roeder 2012; Plotnik et al. 2014). Nonhuman primates are generally not very good at auditory tests compared to visual tasks (Schmitt and Fischer 2009). D'Amato and Salmon (1982) suggested that primates often use sounds as cues to avoid rather than to approach the source, in contrast to cats, for which auditory cues might more often be associated with prey. Assuming that cats often use auditory cues when hunting (Turner and Meister 1988), they may show a better ability to make inferences from auditory stimuli.

Comment: Interesting difference in species related to hunting technique. Our barn cat will explore everything new that arrives, even trucks in and out. It is not surprising apes are just visual. Humans are much more like cats.

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