Studying animal behaviour is an old branch of psychology.
This study is of fundamental value as a source of data on the
origin of the human forms of behaviour, and subjectivity
itself. That is, the primitive forms of human psychology can
be found in animals, and there is no unbridgeable abyss
between the humanity and the biosphere of the Earth. It does
not matter which species of the animals is considered: cats,
dogs, rabbits, or mitten rats. In any case one could find
the links to the higher forms of behaviour and psychic
However, seeking for the traces of human-like behaviour in
animals requires elaborate methods based on a highly
developed conception of human behaviour proper. Animals
cannot go into introspection, or just relate their anamnesis
to you. All one usually gets is the external signs of
internal processes—and the scientist must have the tools
powerful enough for extracting information from such signs.
Still, this does not make animal psychology different from
other sciences, since any science deals with phenomena,
extracting more profound knowledge from them with the help
of elaborate analytical techniques. Thus, a cat cannot
speak human way, and tell me about its intentions and
plans—but a molecule cannot tell me about its atomic
structure just the same! Scientists have learned to
determine the structure of molecules, the composition
of stars and galaxies—and they can learn to guess
about the needs of the animals, and the contents of a
As it seems, this latter task is simpler than, say, guessing
the configuration of electronic subshells in the atom.
Animals are close enough to the human level in the nature,
and any analogies may be much more justified. Moreover,
one usually obtains the major part of information about
the internal world of other human beings through non-verbal
channels of communication—and people already have some
training in guessing the meaning of behavioural signs.
The analogous methods could be employed in observing
higher animals, with minor modifications accounting for
Of course, one should always check the validity of the
techniques employed, to avoid the misleading perceptual
sets or attribution errors. However, the same holds
for any science other than animal psychology.
[For those interested in references: I'm heavily
exploiting L. Vygotsky's ideas expressed in his
History of the development of the higher psychic
functions. (written in 1931; partially published
in 1960, published in full in the Collected Works,
vol.3, pp.5-328; Moscow: Pedagogika, 1983). I will
be grateful if somebody tells me whether this book
has ever been translated into English, and gives me the
Now, let's return to the cat story. The behaviour of
a cat is different that of a human being—and this
difference will be present in any psychic phenomenon,
including, for instance, purposiveness and intentionality.
Still, one may ask to what extent these levels of
behaviour are different? And what is it that makes them
different? To get an answer one will have to somehow
compare these two different kinds of behaviour, which,
obviously, is not a trivial operation. It would be
a folly to compare apples with oranges—unless one
specifies a measure which might be commonly applied to
the both. So, to compare human and animal behaviour,
one must first find the situations where people and
animals would be in the same conditions.
Thus, one might say: "I observe that my little son
has much more developed behaviour than my cat, and
therefore I cannot agree that a cat may have the same
However, such a comparison is illegal, since the
hierarchies compared have been taken in different
unfoldings. This is much like little children's
refusal to recognise as equal two triangles, one of
which has been put with its angle up, while another
is the opposite side up (I understand that such an
attitude may be quite justified another time—e.g. when one's looking for a WC). Have you ever paid
your cat a millionth of the attention you've given to
your child? Have you tried to educate a cat like a
child? Or, maybe, you have tried to treat your baby
like a cat, never really communicating with it and
limiting the scope of its interests to the food and
cotton wool balls? I doubt that a child would have
grown into a person after such education.
The well-known instances of children grown up among
the wild animals indicate that the natural abilities
of a human child cannot make it more than a smart
animal—and people should not conceive too much
about themselves in that respect.
The situation may be just the same, if an individual
develops in the cultural environment: when a worker
is loosing his or her health to earn money hardly
enough for lodging and food, when a student is studying
something with the only goal to make his or her career,
when a millionaire is spending enormous sums to maintain
the decent appearance before the other wealthy men—aren't they just survival mechanisms operating at a
very unsophisticated level? I do not see here much
difference from the cat stalking a bird, or practising
its skills. Well, cats do note vote so far—but
they can do it indirectly, through the people, for
example, fighting against the cruelty to the animals
(especially in the UK). Anyway, babies do not
vote too, and their parents have to organise
demonstrations with the prams to defend children's
interests. I am not too original suggesting that
the process of domestication was not just the taming
of the wild animals by the people, but rather their
I'm afraid, there have been no serious experimenting
with cats to determine the limits of their abilities.
One cannot count the reflex studies—if a person
were to be treated this way, the reactions would be
mainly the same, no matter reason or not. My own
experience with cats, and the cases described by other
people, makes me think that every single component of
human behaviour can be developed in cats to quite an
Of course, it would be strange to suggest that cats
are like people in any respect. There are differences
in physiology, which would not allow the animals to
profit from the material culture of the humanity,
which has been adjusted to the human ways of operation.
Thus, you cannot teach a cat to wash with soap and
shampoo and make a bath. Still, you can teach it to
ask for your help, when the simple lick-up procedure
is felt to be insufficient. A well-educated cat is
much more tidy than most children I know, and even some
grown-ups (if somebody's child is better—my
congratulations). The same holds for any other
Still, there is a field where it would be most difficult
to admit any similarity between people and animals.
I mean speech and language. A two-year-old child
apparently has greater linguistic skills than any animal.
And animals just cannot master human languages and learn
However, here one compares incomparable things once again.
Well, cats are much worse than human babies in speech—but are there many human grown-ups much versed in
communicating the cat way? Few people can distinguish
the various signals issued by the cats, and most people
don't even try to understand their pets. The reason why
most animals do not learn human ways and attitudes is not
because they cannot communicate with us, but rather
because we do not want to communicate with them.
The study of communication abilities in animals
should be based on the forms of communications suitable
for the animals. Thus, the well-known experiments with
chimps have shown that they are much better in sigh
language than in oral speech—and the main obstacle
to the development of their linguistic skills is mostly
the absence of the environment requiring such skills.
My observations of cats indicate that they are very
sensitive to speech intonations, and they can learn to
imitate the intonations of human speech. For example,
my cats used to pose their questions in much the same
phrases the people could have done—only without words.
Of course, such "oral" questions were accompanied with
the appropriate gestures of the cat communication system
(just like people may accompany the oral questions with
mimic and pointing gestures).
So, animals can be compared to people even in the area
of linguistic skills. When my cat who wants to have the
door open goes to me and invites me to open it—does
it principally differ from a baby's "give" word-phrase?
Though every single psychic function can be observed in
cats as well as in human beings, this does not make the
cats' behaviour conscious, and I have never spoken of
conscious animals. The presence of all the components
needed does not mean the arrangement of these components
into the whole. The sociality and productive labour
are the clues—but this is a theme for another essay.