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Thread: Do cats have an awareness of the self?

  1. #1
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    Do cats have an awareness of the self?

    I'm thinking about this since I read in an article that our domestic cats - unlike their wild African ancestors - are obviously not aware of themselves since they do not recognize their reflection in a mirror. They would either ignore it or look behind the mirror to see the "other cat" standing there (this is what my Katz used to do), while the wild ones would spent some time to look at themselves (my Luna is doing this sometimes, even though she is a domestic one!). However, this made the scientists think that our cats are not aware of their own self as a person/being, and I'm wondering if this is right.

    Do you think a cat is able to think about itself as a person, is thinking about itself in terms like "I", "me" and "mine"? Is a cat able to think anyway? Does it for example think "I want this now!" or is it only feeling that it wants something and reacts that way, only to its insticts?

    I'm pretty sure that there IS something going on in their little heads, they are coming up with ideas, they are learning, and they have emotions. But do they realize they are happy or sad, or do they just feel it?

    Sharing my life with a cat, I would really like to know how it is to be her! Was anyone else here ever wondering about these things? What are your thoughts?

    Kirsten

  2. #2
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    Kirsten, I've been wondering about that too. The first time we put a mirror in front of Fister, he seemed a little confused to see a cat in there, and he was very interested in investigating behind. He lost interest pretty soon, though. If we hold a string and drag it behind a door, he often look for the hand dragging it instead of the end of it, and if we run around from one room through another and then along the corridor to the starting point, he will often be standing there waiting for us to show up with it and then go for it. So we think he's a smart guy!!

    He is also communicating quite a lot. When he's been to his litterbox, he usually tells us and if he's seen a cat outside from the window, he runs to us, chatting away about it! So cute!!
    Randi



    "I don't know which weapons will be used in the third World war, but in the fourth, it will be sticks and stones" --- Albert Einstein.


  3. #3
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    I don't know. I never really thought about it when it comes to the cats. I know they are great purrsonalities hidden in a beautiful body. With many wonderful stories to share with us.

    I do wonder about my dog though. She's often standing in front of the mirror with a teddy in her mouth. Just staring at herself for a few minutes. I wonder what she sees. Herself or another dog?

    My cats have no interest in mirrors. A BBC documentary said that only animals (primates) that recognize themself in mirrors have some kind of 'self awareness'.

  4. #4
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    Randi, sounds as if your Fister is a very clever one indeed. He recognized interrelations and develops strategies.

    C.C., now that you say it, I also remember that they said that primates have a higher recognization of themselves than other animals. When the mirror is a reliable test, I wonder what our cats and gods see when they look at themselves. Your dog with the teddy for example (how cute btw! ) or Luna when I hold her in my arms in front of the mirror. Does she realize it's me holding a cat? Or that it's me holding her? Or doesn't she recognize me at all? Wish they could talk! *sigh*

    Kirsten

  5. #5
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    I know Tubby thinks. He is smart, like Fister. When I'm playing with him and, say, dangling something in front of him, he says forget the toy and goes right for the hand that is dangling it. He has always done this from the time he was a little kitten, and this is part of the reason my hands and arms were in shreds when he was a kitten. But he knows when it is Saturday or Sunday morning as compared to a work morning because he will go by the door to the garage and just sit there and look at it and meow because the only time he usually gets to be out in the garage is Saturday or Sunday morning. There are other things he does that I know he knows things. We have the TV up in the loft area. There is a balcony there, and a big mirror on the opposite wall above the fireplace. Tubby knows that if he looks in the mirror he will be able to see what's happening in the entire first floor, even what's happening out the front door if the door is open. When he is sitting there overseeing everything that is going on, we say he's sitting in his crows nest. Now how did he figure that out that what he is seeing in the mirror is actually happening? We have no idea, but he did. Sometimes Terry is just baffled at how smart Tubby is.

    Peanut, on the other hand, got the looks and passed on the brains. She just doesn't figure things out like Tubby does, but doesn't seem to care either. And it's a chicken and egg thing with her. Is she more timid because she can't figure things out as much, or does she not figure things out as much because she is more timid and won't investigate?

    This is a good thread bringing up all these questions, and we will probably never really know until either we learn cat language, or they learn ours.
    Tubby
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  6. #6
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    Luna is also like that. When I play with a dangling toy, she's also watching my hand. And when we're playing kitty light (it's like a laser pointer), she also knows what we're going to play when she sees me picking up that thing. When I stop playing, she's looking at my hand to see if I'll continue.

    She can also understand some words of human language. She knows "essen" (eating), "spielen" (playing) and kitty light. I can ask her what she wants from these things and she would respond to the one she desires. She knows very well how to express herself and for sure we found a good way to communicate.

    Kirsten

  7. #7
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    Interesting questions have been posed here, and it is fun to speculate on how and which way the wheels are turning within the feline brain.

    I can only add that none of my cats seem the least bit concerned with their images in the full length mirrors that serve as the bedroom closet sliding doors . . . they can hardly miss seeing themselves, yet they are quite unimpressed. I'd like to think they realize that it is only they themselves that they see, so no cause for any fuss or alarm.

    I have heard of cats that sit upright and seemingly admire their reflections in a mirror . . . still I think these cats know they are gazing at their own image . . . and have totally fallen in love with themselves! Can you blame them??
    AvaJoy
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  8. #8
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    Tibby likes to stare at herself in the mirror. I just assumes she did it because she is so cute and she likes to look at herself. She's never tried to touch her reflection or look behind the mirror, she just likes to look at herself. Or maybe she's wishing that the cute cat across the room that she's looking will ask her out on a date.
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  9. #9
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    According to another cat board, they don't really see the image in the mirror as themselves. It said according to some studies in animals, only dolphins and some of the chimps seem "self aware".

    Here is an article about Why do cats ignore their reflections in mirrors?
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  10. #10
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    That's an interesting article, Fuzzy, thanks for the link!

    I especially found this interesting:

    "Sometimes when a new mirror is "discovered" by a mature cat, it starts to raise a paw in defense. When it sees the image do exactly the same thing, it knows it is a reflection and walks away. It reacts quite differently when another cat is on the other side of a window. Maybe cats have more recognition of "self" than we recognize.

    Sounds as if they notice the difference between their own refection and another cat. Or is the cat behind a window only more interesting 'cause its moves are not predictable?

    The article also explained another thing to me: When Luna was a kitten, she was interested in watching tv and she loved to play with the mouse cursor and animated gifs on the computer monitor, but then she suddenly stopped. Guess the game was just getting old and boring for her.

    Kirsten

  11. #11
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    This is a very interesting thread!!

    Animal self-awareness is a quite a topic when some people argue that as animals are not capable of self-awereness they are not eligible for basic rights (of course, these people havenīt ever been to PT!!).

    The mirror experiment is an interesting one, but when I see my cats dreaming, demanding affection and asking for playing time (with me - they want to play with me, not just on their own) I canīt doubt that is somehow related to self-awareness. I mean, they donīt ask for basic things only (food, water) or out of instincts - playing "hide and seek" with a human is not what I would call "survival instinct". I donīt know if that is enough to determine there is what we call self-awareness, but there is obviously a living being with needs of their own - and these needs are not only food and shelter!

    Iīm sure that all of us treat our furkids as if they had self-awareness, with our without the scientific facts!! So many people canīt be wrong!!

    Nita

  12. #12
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    Animals, like people, will strive to live up to our expectations of them. I expect so much from mine (no, not like getting a job, or cleaning the house) but responsiveness, and reactions to hand gestures, looks, etc. I know mine have awareness of self!!!

  13. #13
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    More than mirror images.

    I think my cats have a certain self awareness even though maybe not so much outer self awareness, but I am not sure how I know that or how to explain it. Whatever it is it doesn't operate like human self awareness.

  14. #14
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    when i hold jalalabad up to the mirror he pays more attention to me than himself. then he just tries to get down. i wonder whether it's because he's so used to seeing his brother who is the spitting image of him that he knows what he looks like. does that make sense? when i put kandahar up to the mirror he just licks himself - obviously vain (don't know where he gets it from!)

  15. #15
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    sirocco, that playing habit is another interesting aspect... Sometimes Luna is coming up with ideas for new games, and she has the ability to show me what she wants me to do in that game. So I guess this requires some thinking process.

    Miss Moppet, do you think Jalalabad can see it's you in the mirror? This is another thing I was wondering about when I'm holding Luna up to the mirror.

    Kirsten

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