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Research Explores Canine-Feline Intelligence Divide: Dogs Outperform Cats in Social Cognition

by Lisa

In the realm of America’s most popular domestic pets, dogs and cats, a recent study delves into the age-old debate surrounding the relative intelligence of these two beloved species. The most recent research, led by Hungarian researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, reexamines the question of whether dogs or cats have a better understanding of human communication gestures, measuring their “social cognitive ability.”

Dogs, boasting a long history of domestication dating back some 14,000 years, have been integral companions to humans, assisting in hunting, guarding, and herding. Their close association with people and the need for communication in various tasks granted them a unique advantage in social cognitive and communication abilities. The study suggests that, over time, dogs with enhanced social intelligence were likely better cared for and selectively bred, further strengthening these traits within the canine population.

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On the other hand, the domestication of cats occurred later, around 7000 years ago, with a primary role in protecting grain storage from rodents. Unlike dogs, cats maintained a more independent and solitary existence. The study notes that the domestication of cats into companion animals only became prominent in the last few hundred years, leading to a weaker social association with humans compared to dogs.

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To assess social intelligence, researchers conducted a common test involving pointing gestures, a universally recognized communication signal for humans. Dogs, having lived socially and dependently with humans, easily adapted to laboratory testing, displaying a high success rate in following pointing cues.

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In contrast, cats proved to be challenging subjects. Territorial in nature, 60 percent of cats failed to calm down enough to be tested in a laboratory setting. When tests were rerun in the cats’ usual home environment, 40 percent of the cats were still unresponsive or refused to engage in the testing process. Even among the cats that were tested, their performance in recognizing and responding to pointing gestures was notably poor.

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The study concludes that, in terms of social cognition and the ability to comprehend human communication, dogs significantly outperform cats. While the results do not definitively settle the debate on overall intelligence, they highlight the disparity in social cognitive abilities between the two popular pets.

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