I’ve been running a very unscientific experiment for awhile now. It has produced some very interesting results that I can’t seem to explain. So every time my cat comes up to me and wants to jump on my lap (several times a day for at least a month I’ve been running this), I try something new. I either look near her, or don’t look at her at all, or look at her eyes, or some variation. The point was that I noticed she seemed to only make the jump when after we made eye contact.
Recently I’ve tried to be very specific about the different between looking near or at a different part of her body vs making eye contact. It may be my imagination as hardcore scientists would probably tell me, but I’m am quite convinced that she understands the difference between eye contact and non-eye contact.
Here is why I don’t understand this. Even if we make a huge leap and grant full out consciousness to cats (probably an overkill assumption), I still can’t explain it. Humans understand eye contact because they are aware that that is where sight comes from. I can see of no scenario in which a cat can come to the realization that eyes are where sight and recognition come from.
The only explanation I can come up with is that she is getting up there in cat years, and so has developed a conditioned response through years of experience that eye contact means that I am paying attention to her. As a good Pavlovian, we could say that she doesn’t have to have any idea what the cause is or why it works, it is merely a conditioned reaction.
Anyone else that might know something about animal behavior want to take a crack at this one?