The NY Times reports on research showing that cats can create memories of their environment, but they may not rely on vision to do so. Stepping over and touching physical obstacles creates memories of those obstacles that persist even after the obstacles are removed. But, merely seeing the obstacle does not appear to create a memory.
From the Times:
... to really remember something, David A. McVea and Keir G. Pearson of the University of Alberta report in the journal Current Biology, a cat has to do, rather than see. The act of stepping over an object can make for a long-lasting memory of it.
Mr. McVea said the work built on their previous research showing that cats remembered information about an obstacle even after it was removed. They had cats step their forelegs over a three-inch barrier, then distracted the animal while the barrier was lowered. When the cat moved again, it raised its rear legs as if the barrier were still there.
In that study, though, it was unclear if visual cues, or something else, resulted in the long-lasting memory. So in the new work the researchers repeated the experiment with a twist: they stopped the cat after it had seen the barrier but before it straddled it. When the cat moved on after more than a few seconds it did not raise its rear legs enough.
“The movement of the forelegs does something unusual,” Mr. McVea said. “It cements the memory of the obstacle.” They had similar results using a barrier that the cat could feel but not see, demonstrating that visual cues were not necessary to create the memory.