Cats Are As Clever As Dogs—They Just Choose Not to Show It

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A cat and a dog in a bathtub in South London, February 13, 2013. A new study has found cats are just as smart as dogs in the way in which they form memories. Creative Commons

Cats might not sit on command or fetch a thrown stick but it's not because they don't understand, it's because they just don't want to. This is according to a study by Japanese researchers that found cats perform as well as dogs in certain intelligence tests.

Scientists at Kyoto University conducted tests on 49 domestic cats in an attempt to better understand how their brains work. Their findings suggested that felines have an episodic memory, meaning they recall past events in a similar way to humans.

"We examined whether cats could retrieve and utilize incidentally-encoded information from a single past event in a simple food-exploration task previously used for dogs," the paper's abstract states. "The results suggest that cats retrieved and utilized 'what' and 'where' information from an incidentally-encoded memory from a single experience."

The researchers found that cats are as good as dogs at responding to human gestures, facial expressions and emotions. It is hoped the study will contribute to better understanding between humans and felines, as well as lead to new studies exploring cats' memories.

Episodic memory is also linked to self-awareness—the ability to distinguish oneself as a separate and individual entity.

A separate study by researchers in Budapest, Hungary, in 2016 found that dogs also draw on episodic memory. This differs from semantic memory, which is formed from facts and rules that are learnt by an animal in order to survive.

Previous episodic memory tests in other species have suggested primates, rats and pigeons may also form memories in this way.