We know a lot about physiology of domestic animals, but we know so little about cat’s memory, especially about storage and playback of information stored – all that is a mystery to be discovered. However, research conducted in this area, is enough to find the answer, whether cats have memory and in what way it is different from those people have.
Are cats able to memorize?
In the early 1970s, zoologists carried out a simple experiment to find out what memory type is better developed in cats: short-term or long-term. Some food was showed to hungry cats, and then it was hidden under one of the boxes. Then the cats were taken away from the room for 30 minutes. After these 30 minutes were over the cats were brought back into the room: almost all the animals that took part in the experiment could find the right box with a bowl of food hidden under. This experiment left no doubts that cats have memory and proved the fact the dominant memory type is short-term.
The second part of the experiment was carried out under the same conditions, but this time cats were taken away from the room for a day. This time the results have changed: some cats didn’t even try to look for food, the others were sniffing other boxes (i.e. they remembered that there was food around, but couldn’t remember where exactly). It may seem obvious that long-term memory in cats is developed much worse, but it’s not that easy!
Which way cats memorize?
The thing is that cat’s memory is selective. People are able to remember a huge number of events and facts, images and sounds, but a lot of that doesn’t play an important role in our lives. Cats remember facts or objects when they matter. Experienced cat-mother takes care for kittens even more thoroughly and effectively, because it remembers how it was last time – it’s a fact. But when kittens grow up, they don’t need a mother anymore – so cats forget their kittens if they lose communication with them. Cats even don’t remember their grown-up kids meeting them face to face, since for cats it doesn’t matter – it’s just an adult cat.
Time and memory
Do cats have long-term memory and can they memorize something that happened really long ago? It all depends on how the stored information is important for this particular cat. For example, the cat can quickly forget the smell of an occasional guest if nothing happened during this visit, but it will remember the smell of the owner, both if the owner takes care of the cat properly or makes it suffer. For the whole life cats can remember the sound of opening fridge or the place of the cat’s litter, because it is important for them. But there is no need to remember the clothes color of the owner on the day they first met – it is meaningless and makes no use.
Zoologists have repeatedly tried to calculate the amount of information cats are able to store. Unfortunately, they failed to get even an approximate result, since in many cases it is impossible to determine when the cat uses its memory and when it is driven by instincts. However, it is believed that the memory capacity in cats is much lower than that in people. Does this mean that cat’s memory is less developed? It is a paradox, but in a sense, cat’s memory works much better than human’s! The human brain stores information “in a heap”, but cat’s brain stores only those facts and objects that are really necessary for life, safety, realization of their desires, etc. Roughly speaking, the cat has a powerful memory filter getting rid of useless stuff and allowing to keep important information.
Time and Event
It is equally important, how cat’s memory works with events. And again – we can see another significant difference: cat “retrieves” the information from the memory storage only when it is really necessary. People are capable of voluntary memories playback. Like watching a movie: when a mother misses her son, she thinks about him and recalls how fun it was to have fun all together. Cats can’t recall information as long as they don’t appear in a similar situation, as dreams, fantasies, and ephemeral images don’t play any role in the lives of animals.