Cuty-Boy

In 2005 I heard from a gentleman in Dubai about a cat whose abilities rivaled those of Clever Hans.

Dear Dr. Dewey;

I want to inform you about a Persian cat with COGNITION. The uncanny abilities of this cat, CUTY BOY, attracts scientists and cat lovers around the world. Cuty Boy has many skills. He can count, can identify objects, can identify persons before we introduce them to him, can understand many languages and has many other skills. No scientists could define the amazing abilities of Cuty Boy.

What are some parallels between the stories of Clever Hans and Cuty Boy?

As a teacher I am convinced of the skills of this cat. Psychologists, School Teachers, University Professors, Doctors, Journalists and many people from various fields have tested Cuty and are convinced of his skills, yet no one could define the phenomenon with Cuty Boy. Please understand, Cuty Boy does not possess the CLEVER HANS EFFECT.

Cuty Boy's other alleged skills included a knowledge of algebra, plus ESP. Cuty Boy answers questions by tilting his head toward a slip of paper that has the correct answer on it (when offered a choice of several slips of paper) or by touching noses with his owner, while held in his owner's lap. When I heard this, I understood what was happening. I replied, in part:

Ah, but do you really know the story of Clever Hans? You should learn the details. The owner of Clever Hans was NOT cheating or deceiving people intentionally (and I assume Cuty Boy's owner is not, either). The story is more interesting than that and illustrates the wonderful ability of non-human animals to detect subtle cues. Cats are clearly capable of that, as I know (being a devoted owner of a talented cat).

Oscar Pfungst of the Berlin Psychological Institute tested Clever Hans by making sure that nobody in the presence of the horse knew the question that Hans was asked. So, to find out if Cuty Boy is truly a cat Einstein who knows algebra, different languages, and things like that, you would have to ask him a question, then leave the room, and have somebody who knew nothing about the question interpret Cuty Boy's answer. That would eliminate the possibility (the certainty) that Cuty Boy's behavior is a response to subtle cues, not an indication of true understanding.

What was Dr. Dewey's explanation?

If Cuty Boy signals by interacting with his owner (e.g. touching noses) then the owner is obviously present and can provide unconscious cues. If this is the only way Cuty Boy can answer questions, then the owner would have to leave the room earlier, while a question was posed to Cuty Boy. Then the people who posed the question would have to leave the room while the owner returned to Cuty Boy and received the answer. If this was done, you would find that Cuty Boy's Einstein-like behavior would disappear, I'm afraid. In fact, Cuty Boy himself would probably disappear, due to all the commotion. It would be an unusual cat who enjoyed performing for strangers.

Here's a discussion of the Clever Hans from my introductory psychology textbook… [and I included the previous page about Clever Hans]

My correspondent wrote back, insisting that Cuty Boy's talents were genuine (and saying his knowledge of English was not adequate to understand the testing procedure I recommended). He remained friendly, granted me permission to use our correspondence, and he gave my e-mail address to Cuty Boy's owner, Hema Mohan of Dubai. We carry on a friendly correspondence to this day, exchanging greetings and stories about our cats (and Hema writes to ask if I am OK when a hurricane hits the U.S., etc.) Cuty Boy is indeed adorable and quite unusual. For one thing, he grew up with a parrot named Minu, so he tolerates birds. He also allows Hema to dress him in human-like outfits every day. He is a gorgeous specimen of Persian cat!


Cuty Boy with Minu (left) and in a typical outfit (right)


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey