How to Test Object Permanence in Your Cat



Decide on a target.,
Choose some hides.,
Set up a camera to record your cat`s performance, if desired.,
Get the cat’s cooperation.,
Go from easiest to hardest.,
Hold the target in the air.,
Take one of the hides and set it on the floor.,
Make sure your cat is looking at the target.,
Set out both hides.,
Hide the target in your hand.

This is an object your cat will be trying to find. Use an object your cat likes to play with as a target. (Make sure the target doesn’t make any noise, move, or have a scent your cat can detect, however, or else the test won’t be valid!) The target can be anything small and hideable, but make sure you can fit it in your closed hand without any of it being visible.

Do NOT use a treat as the target, because cats can often sniff out treats instead of having to reason about where it would be.;
, They must be big enough to cover the target, and easy to use so you can quickly hide the target while the cat is watching. Make sure the cat is able to retrieve the target – for example, don’t use an upside-down cup because your cat is likely to end up pushing the cup around instead of knocking it over.

, It`s best to use a tripod, or else get someone to help you, because hiding the target is easier with two hands. If you use a tripod, make sure you check the view your camera can see, so you know it`s getting a good picture. If your cat wants to play with the tripod, wait until they`re bored of it before starting testing.

, Pick a time when your cat is in a playful mood, and start playing with the target, getting them to bat at it. (This is easier to do with a kitten.) Testing should be fun for your cat as well as you. If the cat isn’t interested in finding the target, the results won’t be valid.

, Stop when your cat fails the test – the tests build on each other, so they can’t pass a harder test if they fail an easier one. But be sure to do several tries, to make sure the result reflects their real ability. Make sure to give them lots of encouragement, and to use a consistent phrase, such as ‘find it’, to let them know it’s time to look for the target.

, Wave it a little to get the cat’s interest, and then move it slowly around, so the cat has to turn to follow it. After your cat turns a full circle, set the target down and let them paw at it. Following the object as it moves out of their visual field is stage 2 object permanence. (Your cat should pass this one.)

, If your cat wants to play with the hide, let them do it, and wait for them to lose interest. Then, get their attention focused on the target, and move the target half-under the hide, so they can only see part of it.

If they can find the target when it’s partially hidden, that’s stage 3 object permanence. This means that the cat can see part of an object and know that the rest of the object must be there somewhere, out of sight. Repeat this a few times, to make sure your cat didn’t pass by accident or get distracted or something.

, Then put it completely out of sight under the hide. It’s very important that your cat sees the target going under the hide – otherwise, the test is invalid.

If your cat gets the target out from under the hide, that’s stage 4 object permanence. This means they know that objects that are out of sight still exist, and can be found again.

, If your cat wants to play with the hides, wait until they lose interest, and then get them focused back on the target. Hide the target under one hide, over and over, letting your cat get it every time. Then, hide it under the other hide.

If they go for the first hide, this is called the A-not-B error, and it means they failed. If they go for the hide it’s actually under, they’re at stage 5 object permanence. This means they know that the object must be where they saw it disappear, instead of where they usually find it.

, Then, while your cat is watching, move your hand under one of the hides, set the target down (careful not to make a sound or cause visible movement), and pull your closed hand out again. Hold your hand out to the cat, so they can see the target isn’t in your hand.

If they to check your hand, and then go to the hide and uncover the target, they’re at stage 6, the highest level of object permanence. This means they can infer movements that must have occurred, even though they didn’t see or hear the movement occurring.

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