Cats bring us — “us” being the people who like them, of course — a lot of joy, but rarely do we ever consider exactly how they think. They chase laser pointers and get moody a lot, but why? A team of researchers in Japan decided to investigate exactly how cats process their memories to get some insight into their personalities and, as it turns out, they’re a lot more like us than we thought.
The research, which was published in a paper by the team in the journal Behavioral Processes, suggests that cats store memories in a way that is very similar to that of humans. It’s called “episodic memory,” which is a fancy way of saying that their brains are able to store details of how events played out, and they can use that information to predictively guide them in the future.
With a team of nearly 50 cats, the researchers used various foods in specific bowls to determine what foods each cat liked best. Then, after swapping what food was placed in what bowls, the team was able to demonstrate that a given cat could remember specific details about how they were being fed, where specific food was being placed, and whether their food had ever been served in any particular bowl.
The study showed that, as dogs have been shown to have, cats have a memory structure that is not unlike that of humans. The scientists now believe that being able to recall both “what” and “where” from a single event, rather than learned behavior over a long period of time, could be a trait inherent to carnivores, or perhaps mammals in general.