Results: the Teddy Experiment

Yesterday I described an experiment I conducted with my late tomcat Teddy.  When he trotted from the hallway of my apartment (where he greeted me in front of the elevator), into the apartment itself, his tail changed from the wary horizontal position to the happy vertical position.  At what point during the transit from hallway to safehouse did Teddy’s tail go vertical?

I mentioned two hypotheses: when his head crossed the doorway (which would suggest that perception of the brain being inside was sufficient to induce happiness) or when his entire body had passed through the doorway, indicating that Teddy knew when his whole self was safe inside the apartment.

Most people voted for the latter, but a few suggested “head alone”

The answer: the tail went vertical only when Teddy’s whole body was inside.

I repeatedly observed that the moment Teddy’s butt (“bum” for you Brits) passed over the threshold of my place, his tail would rise up instantly.

Conclusion: Teddy became mentally secure only when he knew that his entire body was out of harm’s way, safe in my crib.

Now there’s a paper for Nature! (One would, of course, have to test many cats.)

38 Comments

  1. Justicar
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    “Now there’s a paper for Nature! (One would, of course, have to test many cats.)”

    And in your crib to boot. =^_^=

  2. gbjames
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Ha!

  3. Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Cool!

    I’ll have to more carefully observe my cats, from now on.

    • RFW
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      As I let Fat Mama (recte, “Gypsy”) out the front door this morning, I made particular note that her tail was at half-mast once she’d stepped out onto the porch.

      But is Teddy’s tail-raising behavior really any surprise? Animals have a proprioceptive sense: an awareness of where every part of the body is in relation to the rest. Just as we can touch our noses with our eyes closed, so Teddy knew “butt has passed the door frame” without having to look.

  4. Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I suggest you look at the lost and lonely old cat lady personal ads…I’m sure they’ll participate to help on their litter and food bills.

  5. Matt Bowman
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    What a cool experiment.

  6. Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    This would be an interesting study and paper when completed

  7. Grania Spingies
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    If you’d only added the words “and therefore, God” at the end of your conclusion Biologos would have given you a squajillion dollars.

    • Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Is that more or less than a Brazilian?

      b&

      • Bruce S. Springsteen
        Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Less than a Brazilan, more than a cotillion.

        • Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

          Right before Silmarillion.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted February 18, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            In my personal experience, a Silmarillion is endless.

      • beyondbelief007
        Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        There is nothing more valuable than a “Brazilian”!

  8. Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Let’s hear it for feline situational awareness!

    b&

  9. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I also surmised that the opposite result, being unremarkable, would not have inspired Jerry to share. So my guess was also a bit of Coyne psychology.

    • Posted February 18, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      :D Interesting conjecture. That would make yet another fine experiment (which of us are most familiar with the workings of Dr. C’s mind)!

  10. Posted February 17, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    This also reveals a slight defect in cat body perception. If he raised his tail when his butt was in the house, that means his entire tail was still in the “danger zone” when he began to raise it. So either his body sense is incomplete or, like a gecko, he views his tail as dispensable…

    • Notagod
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      A raised tail gazinto the safe place quicker than a tail laid low?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Or he’s simply trying to avoid getting his tail caught in the closing door.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 18, 2013 at 3:44 am | Permalink

      So if his tail is down, it’s still in the danger zone. Whereas, as soon as his tail is up, it’s safe.

      Sounds like a promising Catch-22 to me.

      However, I think I’d allow kitteh a degree of intelligent anticipation, there.

  11. Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    But does this really establish that “whole-body security” is the reason for the behavior? Seems like you’d somehow have to control for unknown variables.

    • Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I ONLY SPEEK 4 MYSELF, BUT IM MOAR WORRID BOUT TEH NUT SACK THAN TEH BUM. PERHAPS DIS MEANZ CHANGE IN STUDY PROTOCOL?

      This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

      • Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Well that makes two of us, buddy.

        • Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          +2

          This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

          • Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            What an appropriate number.

            • Diane G.
              Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

              rofl!

          • Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            Gah! Just thought of a better one:

            “And I aim to keep it that way.”

            • Posted February 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

              +2^2

              This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Right. This was my point yesterday. We haven’t ruled out the possibility of some invisible-to-us but perceptible-to-Teddy trigger that happens to lie one cat-length inside the door. Teddy’s notion of inside-v.-outside may not correspond to ours.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted February 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        And sub.

  12. neil
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I suspect that his cat ancestors who felt secure when their heads were secure but their bodies were still at risk were culled from the gene pool.

    • Bruce S. Springsteen
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      But, by what? I shudder to imagine.

      • microraptor
        Posted February 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Given when that particular trait was probably being selected for, I’d guess Coelophysis.

        • microraptor
          Posted February 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          And subscribing.

  13. Yossarian
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    After reading this I kept an eye out for my oldest cat, Cammy (11 years now). We have a kitten staying here temporarily until I find her a nice owner, and Cammy can’t stand her, she’s constantly stressed because of it (it’s been 2 months…) and thus stays pretty much only in my bedroom – she always slept with me, the bedroom is both mine and hers. Anyway, she went to the kitchen to score some noms and I called her from the bedroom, she came all the way through the corridor wary (the kitten usually tries to jump her) with tail in vertical (ever compared the “flapping” tail to a scanning radar? I think that’s the exact idea behind it, like eyes in the back of the head). Only and exactly at the moment her butt passed the door and she was fully inside did her tail rise! :)

  14. Tim Anderson
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Third hypothesis: Teddy was an intuitive geometrician and was able to mentally calculate his position on the threshold by triangulating against the food bowl and the litter box.

    Nothing to do with felidological mental armwaving. Anthropomorphism is a bad habit.

  15. Bill Barklow
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Regarding your cat experiment posted in mid Feb; I found a remarkable YouTube video of a dog attacking it’s own hind foot. Your cat may have known where its butt was, but does the dog know the foot getting near a prized food treat belongs to him? I’ve always thought tail chasing is strange. It also brigs up questions about self awareness, in this case the lack of it.

    Be sure to check this out.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Wow! That guy isn’t kidding!


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