Do any other animals understand the concept of a photograph?

My cats will rub and occasionally eat photographs if they’re left unattended, but I doubt they recognize the image in the photo as a representative of anything else in reality.

Which makes me wonder: do any other animals get photography? I assume that chimps, gorillas and orangutans might get the concept. Anything else? Monkeys? Rodents?

If not, why not? Are their eyes not built to recognize still imagery the way we do, or are their brains unable to process the concept of a representation of something that’s not there? Do we understand what makes humans able to comprehend photography?

Understanding a photograph requires substantial abstraction; you have to recognize that the image is representative of something in reality, but that it does not have the smell, sound, or movement associated with what it represents. This is probably easiest for animals for whom sight is the primary sense, as for humans. Cats have good vision, but they also depend very much on sound and smell, and would have trouble recognizing that a photograph represents just the sight aspect – at one instant in time – of an object or living thing. It’s not like anything they would have experienced in their natural environment, particularly because it doesn’t move and is two-dimensional. If it’s a black-and-white photograph, that’s another level of abstraction. So is the difference in scale, and the different perspective. (A cat is used to seeing humans as being many times their own height, so a photograph of a human that’s much smaller than a cat would be beyond their normal experience.)

So, when a cat encounters a photograph, they may see the image but fail to associate it with what it represents. It may just be a shiny object with an interesting smell and interesting reflections. I’m not sure why they’d try to eat them; it’s really not a good idea, and you should try to make sure they don’t find any they can eat.

Actually, it’s something one of them did once several years ago, and then she just bit a few holes in one corner. Since then we’ve not left them out for cats to find.

That said, I was pretty sure cats couldn’t grasp the concept of photography, but you’ve given some decent reasons why not. Any ideas which animals (if any) do understand photos?

The cat is just acting on its subconscious desire to eat you and your loved ones. “Finally,” it thinks, “a human who I can devour while the larger one continues to feed me.”

For what it’s worth, my cat will watch TV sometimes, so maybe a dynamic image is enough for her to connect it to real things, or maybe it’s just the motion that catches her eye. Either way, it’s pretty funny to see her sitting and staring intently up at the images on the wall.

My girlfriend has a VHS tape called Video Catnip. It’s video of birds and squirrels. Drives the cats bonkers. The first time they saw it, they kept looking behind the TV to see if the animals were behind the glass screen.

Friend, cats regularly chase shadows on the floor wildly. I imagine they can’t quite get the concept of a photgraph. :wink:

The question remains – do chimps or any of the other primates understand photographs? I seem to recall hearing about chimps understanding mirrors and movies, but don’t know about still photos.

Chimps can certainly recognize pictures of faces. Citation

My cat will perk up if I’m watching TV/a home video with a bird or cat or dog or something else of interest. I think he is mostly relying on sound. When he looks at the TV, he’s amused, but I think it’s just because he sees things moving.

I show him a lot of pictures of himself and comment on how handsome he looks, but he just doesn’t get it.

Once I sewed a stuffed panther a little bigger than him, and he felt theatened! He raised his hair and growled. There he wasn’t relying on smell or sound.

The first some times he saw himself in the mirror he puffed up, but I think he figured it out. He doesn’t respond to his reflection anymore.

He has stuffed seal that used to belong to me. He took it as his bride and he’s always mating with it! I got him a cute new seal on vacation last year since mine is full of holes from all his affections, but he’s not interested in it at all. He gets fooled for a few seconds until he realizes that it doesn’t smell right, so it must be an imposter.

So in conclusion… I don’t know. I think sound or smell or sight can get his attention, but he usually figures out which things are inanimate.

The cat is just acting on its subconscious desire to eat you and your loved ones. “Finally,” it thinks, "a human who I can devour while the larger one continues to feed me."QUOTE]

heee heeee heeeee!

Who said it was a subconscious desire?:wink:

I’ve seen kittens get all big and bad when confronted with their own reflection, although after a while they figure something out and cease to attack it. OTOH, some birds will absolutely wear themselves out fighting their own reflection.

My sister had a cat that was congentially deaf. She (the cat, not my sister) used to sit at the end of a long hallway facing a mirror, and seemed to understand that what she was seeing was what was in back of her.

Finally, my daughter once won a ceramic leopard statue that was about the size of a very large house cat. We left it on the floor in the living room to see what the flesh and blood cats would do. One ignored it, but one approached it very warily, circling about several times before giving it a quick pat, then progressively longer and less tentative swipes. Within a relatively short time he had figured out that while it might look like a cat, it didn’t feel, smell or act like a cat, and after that he ignored it as well.

It’s hard enough for people to understand photographs when it’s unfamiliar to them. When the Me’en people of Ethiopia were shown a photo of themselves for the first time they bit it, stared at it, and crumpled it. They couldn’t comprehend or “see” human beings on that photo, it wasn’t a part of their world view.

Until last year, I had two 16-year-old cats who had been raised together since they were kittens. Last year one of them died. A few weeks ago, I was touching up a close-up photo of him, in Photoshop, and the image appeared approximately life-size on my monitor. The surviving cat was sitting on my lap at the time, and it’s very rare that he notices anything on the monitor. But when he saw his old buddy up there, he became extremely attentive, and stared at it for about five seconds, then climbed up onto the keyboard and tried to reach into the monitor. When he satisfied himself that there was no live cat in there, he lost interest.

And my new kitten will sit a couple feet in front of the TV and watch for 10-15 minutes at a time, regardless of what’s on. She especially likes cartoons.

I saw a dog who barked at any other dog it would see on a television screen. No barking from the dog onscreen was necessary to set it off.

I read somewhere that not all cats can understand a TV picture because the refresh rate is too slow for them, only the “slow” cats.