Remember the 2017 viral Twitter hashtag, #CatSquares? It featured cat owners sharing photos of their feline friends sitting inside squares on the floor marked out with tape.
It seems that a cat's well-known love for boxes extends to sitting in anything that looks square-shaped, even if it's just a square painted on the floor. But what's behind this feline quirk?
Why do cats like to sit in squares?
The reason cats like to sit in squares is for the same reason they love to sit in boxes. It makes them feel safe and secure. Yes, a square drawn on the ground is not a real box, but a cat doesn't think about it like that. To your moggy, a square is just the same as a box, just without walls.
Do all cats love small space?
Most cats seem to be attracted to small spaces. Some owners find their moggies squeezed into drawers, boxes, baskets and under beds. Before you've even had the chance to unpack your shopping, you may find your cat happily curled up in one of your shopping bags. If it has a small area and has at least three sides, most cats will probably want to climb inside it! Most cats just love to be enclosed and feel snug and protected in small spaces.
Scientists have studied the mysterious behaviour of cats sitting on squares - what did they find?
This mysterious behaviour of cats sitting on squares has led researchers from the City University of New York (CUNY) and the School of Psychology and Public Health in Australia to study cat cognition and whether cats perceive square-shaped optical illusions. Aptly named, 'If I fits I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats', participating cat owners created three shapes, a control, taped square, and a Kanizsa illusion. A Kanizsa illusion is four Pac-Man shapes arranged so that the space in the middle forms a square. Meanwhile, the control used the same Pac-Man shapes but arranged so that there was no illusion of a square in the middle.
So pleased to announce that my paper, "If I Fits I Sits: A Citizen Science Investigation into Illusory Contour Susceptibility in Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris catus) has just been published in AABS! #IfIFitsISits #CatSquare #CitizenScience #CommunityScience pic.twitter.com/AXbDttnOGC— Gabriella Smith M.A. (@Explanimals) May 4, 2021
The study revealed that the cats sat in the taped squares and the Kanizsa squares but not the control. To the researchers, this showed that cats have illusory-contour perception. Illusory contours are visual cues suggesting the edge of a shape that doesn't exist. In the study, the Kanizda illusion uses shapes to mark the corners of a square, and the brain fills in the remaining shape. Therefore, a box doesn't need to be 3D to attract a cat. They will happily curl up in a taped square or even an optical illusion of a square.
What cats' love of boxes and squares can tell us about their visual perception
As the 'If I fits I sits' study shows, cats are susceptible to illusory contours and treat an illusory square as a real square. This behaviour is driven by animal instinct. Cats are attracted to small confined spaces as a way to protect themselves and observe prey. Many animals, including cats, have evolved to have this visual perception that is likely related to navigating the environment. This is what stops them from walking off a cliff or into a tree.
Why do cats like boxes that are too small?
Let's face it; cats seem to live more on the paranoid side of life. Despite being domesticated felines, cats have never lost their awareness that they are predators and prey, so a small box or container can act as a perfect lookout post and shelter. Even if it means their furry body is spilling out over the sides! Cats also find a lot of comfort from being in a snug space, perhaps reminding them of when they were a kitten.
Why do cats prefer square shapes?
Cats love square shapes because it makes them feel safe and secure. To a moggy, a square is simply a box without walls and can provide them with the same comfort and security as any box.
If you have noticed that your cat is drawn to squares on the floor, then it is because they perceive the square to be just the same as a box. So while it may look a little peculiar to you, it's just your cat being a cat!