Results: the Teddy Experiment

February 17, 2013 • 8:33 am

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 thoughts on “Results: the Teddy Experiment

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

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

    1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

    1. 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.


      This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

    2. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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! 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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