Are cats fooled by optical illusions?

The Rotating Snake Illusion is a fun image that makes your brain perceive motion where no motion actually exists. Psychologists understand the factors that make an illusion like this work (and work better) — for instance, breaking up and staggering the colored lines that radiate from the center of the circle creates a much stronger sensation of movement. But they don't know exactly why it works yet, according to Japanese psychologists Akiyoshi Kitaoka and Hiroshi Ashida.

And that brings us to this kitten video.

YouTube user Rasmus posted a video that he thinks might show his cat being tricked by the same sense of motion that catches the eyes of humans who look at The Rotating Snake Illusion. On the other hand, this just might be a cute video of a kitten attacking a piece of paper — which is known to happen.

So here's the challenge: Try it on your cat. You can print it off here. Then, report back here and/or post video responses to YouTube. Let's gather some data!

This is not exactly the soundest experimental methodology ever, but it sure would be interesting to see what happens.


  1. as a cat owner, that cat is TOTALLY being fooled by that optical illusion.

    sidebar rant: what is the point of me clicking “remember me” upon login when YOU NEVER DO?

    1. Agree, that cat looks like it sees a bug.  And yea, WordPress has been doing that to me too.  I didn’t take it personally.

    2.  Boing Boing has never managed to remember me for any significant length of time. :(

  2. I had a Physics text book with this same illusion as part of the cover.  Every cat I lived with attacked that illusion like it was a jumping bug!  Hours of fun with kittens – the older cats would ignore it if I was in the room.  I had to toss the book after one male left his editorial comment about the illusion.  “Fool me once – shame on you.  Fool me twice – shame on me.  Fool me fourteen zillion times – I piss on you!”

  3. Print this out and see if they fall for it…….. I created this fractal some years ago and many humans seem to fall for it……

    1. Wait a minute, though.  That’s not an “optical illusion”.  That’s an animated GIF.  When I take a screenshot of it, it no longer “moves”.  How would printing it out be any different. 

      Edit: well, apparently *I* fell for it! Doh!

      1. Fractals lose their resolution during the screenshot process. Try dragging and dropping the fractal picture to your Desktop, then right-click the picture and send it directly from there to your printer for printing. Stare at that printed image. If that image doesn’t move, then the fractal has lost its resolution during the printing process. Upgrade your printer to this Epson printer from Amazon at this link. Please give Amazon my affiliate marketing number: 54734 when you make this purchase. Enjoy your illusions!

  4. I’m surprised this works – I know cats have different colour vision to us (I daren’t describe it as “inferior” in this place!)

    Maybe we need an iPad app with an evolutionary algorithm that produces random variations on the pattern.  It could keep track of how much it gets attacked when it’s displaying each one?

  5. What would make it all scientifical isn’t just more cat videos, it’s a negative control.  Is there a diagram as similar to this as possible but without the illusion?  Then we just need to observe differential behavior towards the two diagrams for different cats.  If the negative control was very similar to the illusion, this could be quite convincing either way.

    1. There’s also the problem that some cats are dumb, and some will chase anything, and some don’t care much for chasing.  One of my cats would lick the paper, at least if you use a wax-type printer.  Another of my cats would decide that if you think the paper is interesting to look at, he should go sit on it (he also didn’t like laser pointers.)

      1.  I had a cat that was deathly afraid of laser pointers. Would run into the other room at the first glimmer.  Of course, it was also afraid of that ululating alien opera themesong from Farscape.  I think this is proof of feline alien abduction.

  6. one should hypothesize the difference between human perception (feelings, misapprehensions, loves, annoyances) and higher animal X is 0.0 until shown otherwise  (note: this haphazard heuristic is the exact opposite of what i was taught in “Psychology as a Natural Science 231”)  next up: how does a dog feel about fingernails on a blackboard? [head-cock]

    1. I asked my dog, he said fingernails on the blackboard don’t bother him.  He also said the “head cock” is a non-verbal equivalent of “What you talking bout Willis?”.  Next question.

  7. My cat, who used to hunt flies, was tricked once when I made a convincing sound of a fly coming from my mouth.  He tried to peer inside my mouth to get at the noise.  Thereafter, any time I tried it, he’d just look at me with contempt.  

    1. I had a cat who would respond when I cupped my hand over my mouth and made a squeaky, high-pitched whistle.  I guess she thought I was eating a mouse; the first couple of times I did it she came up and examined my hand and mouth VERY closely.  After that she was no longer fooled, but she treated it as a “come here” type of call.

  8. Kittens attack anything and nothing,  so it seems like they are living just this side hallucination much of the time anyway. 

  9. Both of my cats were unimpressed by the sheet of paper. On the theory that the printout was too low resolution, or the colors were off, I showed it to them on an iPad. They didn’t notice anything. They do react to cat-toy apps on the iPad, so I’d say this was a bust.

  10. Even if they are fooled, that would be only because that was their plan from the beginning. With cats everything is intentional.

  11. Our cat simply laid down on the paper.

    Not sure what that means other than we have a lazy cat.

  12. I’m generally convinced that the first few months of a cat’s life is like one long LSD trip. They spend the rest of their lives coming down and occasionally falling into flashbacks.

  13. Just goes to show how intellectually superior cats are to dogs. While the cat is fooled by the illusion, at least it knows there’s an illusion. A dog will simply go over to the paper, try to eat it, and move on….. Probably to pee somewhere….

  14. Never mind the cat – my girlfriend doesn’t see the vast majority of illusions on that page.

  15. I wish more college lectures would contain the sentence “And that brings us to this kitten video”.

  16. 3 cats: 1 supergenius, 1 neurotic, 1 “special.” None of the triad duped by snakes on a (smooth) plane.

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