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Scientists Have Examined The Mysterious Phenomenon Of Cats Sitting On Squares

Every cat owner has experienced that mysterious phenomenon of their cat sitting in some place that they shouldn't - from boxes to random books to whatever container they can fit in. If it fits, I sits, that is indeed the saying. We have even seen that cats will sit on flat, square-shaped objects on the floor. But have you ever thought about why they do it - what is this magnetic pull towards the square that we cannot see and do not understand? Well, scientists are now officially studying the phenomenon. 

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    According to Vice, Researchers from City University of New York and the School of Psychology and Public Health in Australia have gone out and studied the phenomenon, specifically focusing on whether cats can perceive square-shaped optical illusions. Amazingly, they found that the box doesn't even need to be 3D to attract the cat; cats will go sit in a taped square on the floor or even in an optical illusion of a square. The study: "If I fits I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats," was published on April 30 in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, an Elsevier journal.


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    What's unique about this study is that the scientists have decided to use citizens for their investigation. "A big reason that they used citizen science is that COVID-19 hit right when the research was set to start," according to Gabriella Smith, lead author on the study. "We flirted with the idea of going to the lab, but it made more sense for people at home to do it. Homes are more comfortable for cats."


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    Each participating cat-owner received a box of materials from the team "to create three distinct shapes: a taped square, a Kanizsa illusion, and a control. A Kanizsa illusion is four "Pac-Man" shapes arranged so that the negative space forms a square. The control used the same Pac-Man shapes, but arranged face-out so that there was no illusion of a square."


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    The cats, amazingly, sat in the Kanizsa squares and the taped squares but did not sit in the control squares. According to the study, this means that cats are capable of "illusory-contour perception." That means that the cat's brain was capable of recognizing that the shape of the Kanizsa square by filling in the gaps. "Many animals are evolved to perform this sort of perception," said Smith. "It's probably to do with navigating the environment. You need to know when not to walk into a tree or off a cliff." 


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    "Illusory-contour perception has been studied in many other species, but this is the first study that domestic cats are susceptible to illusory contours in an "ecologically relevant paradigm." That is, a home, not a lab." It seems that this study is also the first to use citizen scientists in experimentation with cats, which opens up many cool opportunities for future studies. 


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    Via amastine

    "One struggle with using citizen science to track cat behavior is that many participants failed to complete the study. As intended, the study lasted for six days, with each day including a 5-minute trial. The cat-owning citizen scientists placed the cat in another room and laid out the visual stimuli, measuring precisely to ensure consistency. Then, they put dark sunglasses on (so as not to visually cue the cats) and let them back into the room," Vice explains. "Out of 500 cats and owners, only 30 completed the entire trial, shrinking the sample size considerably.."


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    The researches have also said that they're interested in seeing how this study translated to non-domesticated cats, like big, wild cats. "We don't know whether wild cats are susceptible to that illusion, because they may not encounter corners and walls the same way," Smith said. And we, for one, are extremely interested in seeing where that study would lead. 


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