How do cats learn by observing?

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Whether or not cats learn by observing is something researchers debate. Some animal experts believe that when one cat watches another performing a task, the cat is watching the problem, not the solution. Some feline fans insist, however, that the term “copycat” originated for a reason.

Certainly kittens learn valuable life skills, many of them involving hunting, from their mothers. They watch what Mama is doing, and absorb the fact that they get something for the effort — food. Then trial and error kicks in, as they try to replicate the actions that created the desirable outcome.

There is no reason to believe that cats do not take this skill into adulthood, using observation to determine what needs to be done and trial and error to figure out how to do it.

There are numerous reports of one adult cat watching another do something and then accomplishing the same task more quickly on its own. For instance, one cat sees another opening a cabinet door and replicates the feat in one or two tries. Solo, however, the cat might require more time.

Depending on the degree of interaction in the home, and the individual cat’s personalities, cat owners swear their companions learn from watching them as well. It’s important to remember that as small predators, observation is an important feline skill, and one that seems to be adaptable to their environment no matter how domestic.

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