Can animals see optical illusions? Kitty says YES.

Youtuber rasmusab has posted a video that's as adorable as it is thought provoking. In it, a small orange kitten with white feet appears transfixed by an 8.5 x 11 printout of the famous "rotating snakes" illusion (just one variation on the "peripheral drift illusion" — see an example for yourself below). The kitten paws at it in vain, presumably attempting to pin down the parts of the picture that appear to be moving at the fringes of its vision. Then again, it could just be batting at the sheet of paper. Because it's a kitten, etc.


"My cat can see the rotating snake illusion!" writes rasmusab, who encourages other cat owners to try the experiment for themselves and add their observations to this Google doc. "If enough people do this we might be able to crowdsource some real evidence that cats can see visual illusions!"

The experiment is already well under way, and results have been... mixed. Redditor st33lb0ne posted a picture of their cat's reaction that highlights a flaw in the study's design, namely: we can't say the cat doesn't see the illusion, just that it isn't reacting to it:

Illustration for article titled Can animals see optical illusions? Kitty says YES.

If we had to make a wild guess we'd say that cats probably can see the optical illusion, reason being that the mammalian visual system is pretty highly conserved (plus, scientists still aren't totally clear on the mechanisms at work when humans fall for it — see the "Potential Mechanisms" section of this paper). We're honestly not sure whether a crowdsourced internet experiment comprising Google doc surveys could give rise to publishable data or not — but having seen the video, and the kinds of responses it's already generating, we at the io9 Internal Review Board grant our enthusiastic approval of this adorable animal protocol. Please feel free to contact us when seeking peer review.

Illustration for article titled Can animals see optical illusions? Kitty says YES.

[rasmusab via reddit]



If you want to participate in this I recommend you place (at least) two pieces of paper under glass or some clear, protective surface. One with the illusion, one blank, perhaps another with a geometric but non-illusion-making (dudes I'm tired) pattern on it. The glass will standardise tactile feedback (although reflection will be an issue) and the other patterns/blank papers will help to control for illusion vs paper interest.

Just some thoughts. Might try this with mum's cat over the weekend.

EDITED TO ADD whether or not crowd sourced data can be published - I refer you to this paper