Study aims to determine if cats are susceptible to visual illusions

If you've ever owned a cat and left a box of any type sitting around, undoubtedly, the cat has at some point plopped down inside the box. Scientists have conducted an interesting experiment to see if cats also like to sit inside fake boxes. The study was led by Gabriela Smith, an animal cognition scientist from Hunter College's Thinking Dog Center in New York.

Smith attended a lecture on how dogs reacted to visual illusions before going home to play with her roommate's cat. Smith began to wonder if cats, a creature who already has a tendency to sit inside squares, such as boxes, on the floor, would extend their sitting preference to perching inside illusionary squares. Smith and colleagues used something called a Kanizsa illusion, which involved arranging four Pac-Man shapes, which are essentially circles with a quarter removed to suggest the contours of a square.

The researchers reach out to 560 cat owners via Twitter to participate in the project. During a six-day span, volunteers used paper, scissors, and rulers to create square outlines using the same shapes to create the illusion of a square and orienting the same shapes so that they didn't create a square. The cat owners were instructed to wear sunglasses to hide their eyes to avoid influencing the animals.

Once the shapes were arranged, the cats were allowed into the room, and the volunteers watched to see which shapes, if any, the cat might sit in for more than three seconds within five minutes of entering the room. All the tests were recorded on video. Out of all cat owners invited to participate in the project, only 30 owners completed the tests.

Out of those 30 owners, only nine cats made at least one choice during the experiment. Researchers say the cats found the illusionary squares seven times, nearly as much as the eight times the cats chose the real squares indicating they were susceptible to the illusion. The scientists say they would've like to look at more cats for the study and, if performed again, will look to encourage participation by shortening the study from its original six-day format.