Research from Saho Takagi, and her colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan suggests that cats may have very rudimentary understanding of principles of physics. Further, the research suggests that in an innate way, cats may even have a primitive understanding of gravity. This finding does not jeopardize Newton’s and Einstein’s place in the world of physics. But it may mean that Japanese cats are better at physics than the run-of-the-mill cat found elsewhere in the World.

The study was conducted 30 Japanese cats. The experiment was done using a box containing several iron balls, which were free to move and rattle about in the box, and fall out if the box was inverted. On the opposite side of the opening the box contained an electromagnet, which when activated prevented the balls from moving about and falling out.

The researchers showed a series of activities to each cat. The researchers took the following steps in demonstrating the box and its contents:

  • The box was shaken horizontally (right side up, so the balls would not fall out) for five seconds
  • The box was inverted for five seconds with the magnet off, allowing balls to fall out of the box, or the magnet on, keeping the balls from falling out.
  • In the final stage the box was placed right side up on the floor allowing the cat to inspect and play with it for 15 seconds.

The cats were presented with a variety of conditions where…

  • the balls were able to rattle and fall out
  • the balls were able to rattle but not fall out
  • the balls were not able to rattle but fell out
  • the balls weren’t able to rattle or fall out

The entire process was recorded for study.

The conditions created above were designed to match what initially was believed to match a cat’s understanding of the physical world—they presumably don’t know about magnets. It was hypothesized by Takagi that the cats would be more curious about the two scenarios which were not in keeping with the way the physical world be expected to behave to a cat (i.e. the presence of rattling but no object falling out or no sound and objects falling out).

As would be expected, the cats were most interested when the box was being shaken with balls rattling about, then when there was no sound; however, in the second portion of the test, the unexpected results of the shaking and inversion—where no balls fell out after rattling, or balls fell out with no rattling present–were what seemed most interesting to them.

Takagi suggests that the reaction is due to the cats behavior towards these experiments, that they may have some primitive understanding of gravity.