Cats and Dogs at the Movies

February 2001

Dear Dr. Legge,

I am coauthor of a weekly newspaper column called "Strange But True," now in about 75 newspapers and magazines worldwide (Boys' Life Magazine, Cincinnati Enquirer/Post, Akron Beacon Journal, Portland Oregonian, San Diego Union Tribune Online, Orange County Register, Dayton Daily News, Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Peoria Journal-Star, Deseret News, Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, Ottawa Citizen, Halifax Herald, Wellington NZ Evening Post, Sur in English, Publico of Portugal, Gulf News--United Arab Emirates, Zambia Daily Mail, etc).  We do the column in Q & A format, usually with three items per column, focusing on some of the ZANIER, MORE STARTLING byways of scientific research, such as dreams, voodoo, hypnosis, animal cognition, laws of happiness.  It is our belief that verifiable facts and information are more fun to read than sensationalistic stuff that doesn't stand up to scrutiny, though it may make for titillating headlines.  So, we're looking for the strange, but true.

From: Bill Sones
Strange But True column



Q.  What would a dog or cat make of a movie in a movie theater?  Is their vision essentially the same as ours, so they might actually give "paws up" to the performance?

A.  What the dog or cat makes of the movie will depend where they sit, says University of Minnesota psychologist Gordon E. Legge.  Since cats and dogs have substantially lower visual acuity than humans, they'll have trouble reading the credits or the subtitles if they sit in the back row. "I'd recommend they sit near the front."

Cats and dogs may not care much for the advances of technicolor, etc.  Although both have some color vision, it is definitely inferior to trichromatic human color vision. So, they may be content with black and white films, caring little for Fantasia or other colorful flicks.

Because cats do better at low levels of illumination than people (a higher proportion of rods in their retina, the cells sensitive to low light), they might particularly enjoy night-time scenes or stories--maybe "Night of the Living Dead" would be a big hit.  Cats are also good at seeing gradual gradations of shading, so they'd probably like horror movies with blobs and shadowy figures.

"But since smell is probably a more salient sense for dogs (and maybe cats too), they'll likely be distracted from the main feature by the hot buttered popcorn."

Dr. Legge with cat.