How do cats learn by trial and error?

In their learning strategies, cats seem to employ a sequence of observation, imitation, trial and error, and adaptation. This is likely the adult evolution of their early training as kittens. Young cats are taught survival skills by their mothers, practicing through play and mimickry. The phrase “copycat” does have a basis in reality.

As older animals, and as innate predators, cats are keen observers of their environment. If two cats live together, it is quite common for a “learning” relationship to develop, with one basically saying to the other, “Look what I figured out!”

On their own, however, cats see a result they want, and begin to try to figure out how to achieve it. There are many stories from cat owners about felines who have observed sacks of cat food being put in cupboards. The cat will then learn to open the door, and, in turn, the sack. The desired result? Lunch.

Cats use trial-and-error to problem solve, adapting their attempts based on the results they achieve or the lack thereof. Although not all cats are equally intelligent, the ones who are really clever seem to know exactly what they are doing and to continue to hone their skills.

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