Last Updated on: June 14, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Our feline friends can sometimes engage in pretty odd behaviors. One of the most well-known unusual cat behaviors is their tendency to sit in squares. In fact, in 2017, the entire internet spent a significant amount of time watching all kinds of cats decide to sit in taped squares on the floor (#CatSquare).1
But why do cats like sitting in squares so much? Is there an actual reason, or is it just one of those cat things? While more research needs to be done into the phenomenon of square sitting, it seems that much of it has to do with a sense of security, while sometimes (as in the case of taped squares) it has to do with what’s known as the Kanizsa illusion.
The Kanizsa Illusion
Back in 2021, researchers from the School of Psychology and Public Health in Australia and the City University of New York (CUNY) decided to study cognition in cats—specifically, whether felines were able to see optical illusions that were in the shape of the square.2 However, because of the pandemic, they ended up doing a citizen science investigation where they had cat owners test their cats at home. These cat owners were required to lay out three shapes on the floor—a square of tape, a Kanizsa illusion, and a control shape that did not appear as a square.3
The results of this study (amusingly titled “ If I fits I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats”) found that the majority of cats stuck to the taped square and the Kanizsa illusion when it came to sitting. Rarely did cats venture into the control shape that was not square. What does this mean?
It means that felines are able to perceive illusory contours (or fill in the idea of a shape when visuals merely suggest the edges of a shape). So, cats can tell a square shape, and in the case of 2D squares (versus 3D ones, such as boxes), they are likely attracted to sitting in them because of the shape’s sides. But why would they want to sit in these squares because of the sides?
Reasons Cats May Enjoy Sitting in Squares
As cat parents, we’ve all seen our kitties hanging out in a variety of square-shaped items. In fact, I have tons of photos of my cats smushed into the smallest of square boxes and baskets. But why do our cats enjoy these spaces so much?
There are a couple of possible reasons felines head towards squares, but the main theory of why they like square sitting has to do with comfort and safety. Our cats enjoy enclosed spaces (or ones with sides) because it offers them a sense of security, particularly when stressed out. When cats are tucked away into those squares, they can view the world around them from a vantage point that doesn’t involve them being out in the open, making them “safer”. So, even if the space with sides is simply a taped square on the floor, it’s likely your cat feels just a bit more secure while sitting in it.
However, our feline companions might also head to a square, such as a box or even a piece of cardboard on the floor, to stay warm and cozy. Cardboard can act as decent insulation for kitties, and cats love to be warm, so one can see why they’d enjoy certain squares that provide coziness. The same goes for square-shaped cat beds and soft, fuzzy rugs!
Do All Kitties Like Sitting in Squares?
All cats are different, so some may not have any inclination towards sitting in square items or taped squares. You might tape off a square in your home, only to find that your cat is totally disinterested or takes a quick look, then moves on. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your cat; it’s just a matter of personal preference for them!
Most kitties are big fans of sitting in squares. The leading theory for why they enjoy this revolves around square shapes, giving them a sense of safety due to having sides. The study, “If I fits, I sits: A citizen science investigation into illusory contour susceptibility in domestic cats,” found that felines can perceive square shapes and the illusion of square shapes and will ignore other available shapes. This makes the theory of the sides of a square being comforting more plausible. But it might also be that many square shapes can provide warmth and coziness to a cat.
Don’t be alarmed if your cat won’t sit in a taped square (or other types of squares), though! All cats are different, so yours might simply not be a fan of sitting in this shape.
Featured Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock
About the author
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!