A study just published in the journal
So pleased to announce that my paper, "If I Fits I Sits: A Citizen Science Investigation into Illusory Contour Susceptibility in Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris catus) has just been published in AABS! #IfIFitsISits #CatSquare #CitizenScience #CommunityScience pic.twitter.com/AXbDttnOGC— Gabriella E. Smith M.A. (@Explanimals) May 4, 2021
Gabriella Smith, a graduate student at Hunter College (CUNY) in New York City, developed the idea for the study. Smith teamed up with Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere for the project, as the latter researcher was already studying dogs’ susceptibility to visual illusions. (The eureka moment for Smith came while she was playing with her cat after going to one of Byosiere’s lectures.)
For their study, the authors asked citizen scientists to conduct a series of trials on their cats. The trials involved marking out Kanizsa illusions in scientists’ homes to see if they intrigued cats like normal boxes do. After marking out the illusions—which use
Stimuli included the Kanizsa square illusion, a square outline, and a Kanizsa control. Dimensions within and between stimuli were determined to ensure that a cat could comfortably sit or stand inside with all limbs but not sprawl between and contact both at once. pic.twitter.com/0cQo10NnlY— Gabriella E. Smith M.A. (@Explanimals) January 27, 2021
Of the 30 cats who completed all the study’s trials, nine selected at least one of the illusions within the first five minutes of entering a room. Far fewer, on the contrary, selected the control patterns, which did not form invisible squares. The cats also selected the Kanizsa illusions just as often as they did complete squares consisting of tape markings. “It’s the presence of the contours, either in the Kanizsa square or in the real square, that causes cats to sit inside, rather than the presence of shapes on the floor,” Smith told
Unfortunately, the study has some significant drawbacks. The sample size of 30 cats, for example, isn’t large enough to give confidence in these findings on their own. (Attrition rates are a common problem with citizen scientists.) If larger studies bear out these results, however, it could mean cats perceive illusory contours the way we do. Something we’ll be able to confirm definitively once both we and our cats receive our Neuralink brain chips.