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Cats—like humans—rely on movement for memory 



JENNY FROGNER 

I HAS A MUSCLE MEMORY Cats show researchers how humans learn. 


ALLISON GRAHAM 

News Writer 


Cals may seem unappreciative to their 
owners, but the advances made by a 
University of Alberta researcher sug¬ 
gest that their memory is influenced 
not by sight but action, a breakthrough 
that humans should appreciate. 

U of A professor of Physiology 
Keir Pearson studies the way that our 
brains control how we know where 
an object is in relation to our bodies. 
The experimental concept of testing 
whether or not an animal needs to 
perform an action or can merely see 
an object to remember it is one of the 
main focuses of Neurophysiology. 
Pearson's field of study. 

“I’m interested In how the brain 
controls behaviour." Pearson said. 
"It you move, you still know where 
objects are relative to your body, so 
tliat means there has to be some sort 
of remapping in your brain to keep 
crack of where chose objects are as you 
move." 

The first experiment that Pearson 


performed conasted of a cat stepping 
over an obstacle with its front legs. 
The cat was then distracted with food 
for as long as possible while straddling 
the barrier. Pearson removed the object 
while the cat was feeding, and then got 
the cat to continue to move forward. 
Every time the test was performed, the 
cat moved forward by raising its hind 
legs as if stepping over tlie obstacle. 

"The surprising result there was 
dial this memory lasts for a long, 
long time." Pearson said. “[Possibly] 
seeing the obstacle would be enough 
to tell the animal it’s there." 

However, lie inferred iliai that infor¬ 
mation could also have been sent to the 
brain from the cat's forelegs to stimu¬ 
late memory, and that the sight of the 
object wasn’t the only factor that cre¬ 
ated tlie cat's long-term memory. 

"[The] paper that we published just 
recently was to determine what fac¬ 
tors would establish this memory," 
Pearson said. He explained that there 
were two factors possibly involved: 
the first being the sight of the object, 
and the second being the possibility 


that the movement of die cat's forelegs 
sent a mesage to the brain to remem¬ 
ber tlie obstacle. 

To test this, die cat was brought to the 
obstacle so tliat it could see it but not 
step over it. If tlie cat was distracted for 
a much shorter period of rime, it would 
remember the obstacle and lift ils hind 
legs as done in the first experiment. 

"if it is more than a few seconds, 
[the cat] completely forgets, so the 
visual signal by itself is not sufficient," 
Pearson said. “This indicated to us 
tliat it was the actual movement of the 
from legs over the obstacle that actu¬ 
ally established die memory." 

Because of the results found in 
Pearson’s tests, researchers have fur¬ 
ther ideas on how these discoveries 
will benefit people. Pearson explained 
that this study helps us understand 
little things about human behaviour, 
from how we can go down stairs with¬ 
out actually needing to see the stairs, 
to being able to find where we parked 
our cars in a iarge parking lot—even if 
it takes some of us slightly longer. 

More import am are the possibilities 


of what this research can do for our 
health. Pearson said that people with 
Alzheimer's, dementia. Parkinson’s, 
or other cognitive disorders can’t keep 
track of objects in their environment. 


"[Researchers] might be able 
to develop some son of test to see 
whether there's a memory decline in 
these patients to do with knowledge of 
where objects are.” lie said. 



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