Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can Cats Play Three Card Monte?

What may seem as a testament to animal cognition, this video boils down to a simple three-card monte game; as such it is an employer of misdirection and slight of hand. The commentors to the video state that the cat "understands what is happening and can play the game", or "he is finding the ball" both are false. Let us take into consideration the following:

1. There is a bell inside the cups, the cat never even needs to see what's inside. A misdirection in a sense that you think the cat is playing three card monte, when all it is doing is listening for a sound that can be heard anytime the cup is touched.

2. You never see the inside of the cups. There could simply be cat-nip or food taped on the inside. A form of slight of hand could be taking place.

3. Multiple takes were probably done until the desired results occurred.

4. The cat could have simply been conditioned to tap the "correct" shell.

5. Domesticated animals take cues from their owners and humans in general. For all the viewer knows, the owner is looking right at the correct cup, or giving off another subtle cue without even realizing she is doing it!

This video is a little more impressive as it challenges the previous criteria a little more, however the cat completes the task two out of three times. Also, the skeptic in me wants to know once again what is in that paper ball, as at the end of the video the cat knocks it down and goes for it. It all seems reminiscent of the tic-tac-toe chicken.

People tend to stare longer at things they find interesting. For example, a child without established object permanence will stare longer when an object "appears" (peek-a-boo). It would be interesting to see if when slight of hand is applied against a cat, whether or not the cat would stare longer (or at all for that matter). I just wonder which shelter would let me play three card monte with their cats for hours on end, never mind which shelters have cats well trained enough to watch. So, can cats play three card monte? I am skeptical of it, but not dismissive. A study in a controlled environment with many cats would yield an answer. If anyone  knows of studies that tested similar criteria, don't hesitate to drop a line.


  1. No matter what, I'll keep saying cats are superior creatures =P

  2. One of the funniest animals when playing :)