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 Everyone knows how much cats love boxes. You can google it in images and have a literal melt-down from all the adorable pictures. The social media is filled with people post all sorts of funny pictures of their cats in cardboard boxes, baskets, suitcases, drawers, and plastic storage bins. 

Cats, like people, can be fooled by optical illusions. A new study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science found cats were more likely to sit inside 2-D shapes that imitate an illusion of a square, and it may give researchers more insight into our furry friend’s perception of visual illusions, reports Ed Cara for Gizmodo.

Cats like to sit where they fit

The study, based on experiments conducted by pet owners at home, found that cats tend to sit inside 2D shapes that only look like squares about as often as they’ll sit inside a real square. The findings might give us a little more insight into cat cognition.

Study co-author Gabriella Smith, an animal cognition researcher at Hunter College in New York, first had the idea of testing a cat’s cognitive perception after hearing a lecture on a dog’s susceptibility to optical illusions and wondered if a domestic cat could also fall for visual trickery.

Smith and her team designed a citizen science experiment in which pet owners were instructed to create the illusion of shapes using paper and tape by creating corners without sides, reports Gizmodo. This exercise is known as the Kanizsa square illusion, which gives the perception of edges without the shape being there.

This study ultimately reached over 500 pet cats and cat owners, and of those, 30 completed all of the study’s trials. Of these, nine cat subjects selected at least one stimulus by sitting within the contours (illusory or otherwise) with all limbs for at least three seconds. This study revealed that cats selected the Kanizsa illusion just as often as the square and more often than the control, indicating that domestic cats may treat the subjective Kanizsa contours as they do real contours. 


Cats love affair with squares

The study was also the first time cats were tested on visual illusions in an environment familiar to them, allowing them to behave naturally at home. In contrast, environments like lab settings are more likely to stress cats out, reports Gizmodo.

Why do cats love squares in the first place? Per Gizmodo, there are some working theories, such as the idea that it reflects their attraction to tight-fitting spaces, or that it’s related to their predatory instincts. But these explanations don’t necessarily explain why they’re drawn to 2D shapes and the theories are still pretty informal at this time, according to Smith.




SCIENCE DIRECT: “If I fits I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus).”

GIZMODO: “Scientists find that cats love to sit inside squares—even fake ones.”