A Science Experiment: Faux Laptop Trap

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A while back, a viral Tik Tok post went around claiming that if you set out a fake laptop, your cat would be drawn to it while you work. I don’t use Tik Tok because I’m not as young and hip as I like to tell myself, but multiple folks sent me this video so I watched it. It was intriguing, but definitely felt a bit too simple to be real.

Fast forward a few months to when I was ordering litter on Chewy. I stumbled upon a fake laptop for cats and an idea came into my head: Let’s test out the claim about if a decoy laptop can get your cat to leave you alone while you work from home!

For those of you who follow me on social media, you may have seen the preliminary results. However, I have collected more data and want to share the final results of this prestigious, rigorous scientific undertaking. I present the results of this very serious study below.

Materials

I purchased the decoy Big Mama’s Lappy Toppy from Chewy.com. The laptop is a blue color and filled with a soft foam. It is approximately 11 inches by 14 inches and is separated  into two 3/4 inch thick layers that are connected by fabric.

 A blue fake laptop for cats.
Fig 1. The decoy laptop.

The decoy laptop features a very realistic mouse attachment so the cat does not see through the ruse.

A fake mouse attached to the fake laptop.
Fig 2. Hyperrealistic computer mouse, indistinguishable from a real one.

A standard, functional Macbook Pro laptop was used as the real laptop for the experiment.

Macbook laptop next to a fake cat laptop.
Fig 3. You can barely tell them apart! Which one is the real one?

A standard home office set up was utilized, including one office chair known to attract felines. (Seriously, he loves my freakin’ office chair.)

Subjects

One feline subject (n=1) was recruited to participate in the study. A convenience sample of the researcher’s own cat was used to recruit the participant. The subject was an 11-year-old neutered male Siamese mix who, for privacy reasons, shall be referred to as Z. He was compensated with chin scritches, treats, and wet food for his time. Informed consent was performed. The subject was unable to sign due to being a cat so verbal consent was attempted to be obtained. The subject meowed quite a bit which the researcher interpreted as being good enough due to low ethical standards.

Methods

The experimental space was set up with a default level of messiness and not extra efforts to clean were made. A brief proof of concept study was conducted over two evenings on an end table without the real laptop control. The subject was not attracted to the laptop on the first night, but on the second evening, he briefly rested on it. The researcher determined these results indicated further study was warranted and moved forward with the full study.

A lynx point Siamese cat sitting on a blue fake laptop for cats on a desk.
Fig 4. He was very cozy here for about 2 minutes.

The real and decoy laptops were set up next to each other ahead of a standard work day for the researcher who conducts Zoom appointments. The subject was allowed to enter and leave the space as he pleased and was supplied with access to his standard litter box, water, and food. The experiment commenced at approximately 8 am. A standard cellular phone camera was utilized to record observations. The study was repeated over several days to ensure the accuracy of the results.

Upon commencing the experiment, the researcher set up both the real and the fake laptop in the open position in order to control the potential impact of the very real looking decoy laptop being confused as anything other than the real deal.

Results

The subject slept until approximately 10:30 am on the first day of the experiment and followed a similar pattern on remaining days. Upon entering the experimental room (laboratory? Should I refer to my living room as a laboratory?), the subject screamed until the researcher fed him his second breakfast. The researcher returned to his tasks. Upon completion of his meal, the subject trotted up to the researcher, proceeded to leap onto his lap and immediately onto the decoy laptop.

A lynx point Siamese cat standing on the fake laptop on a desk facing away from the camera.
Fig 5. The subject moments after his initial contact with the decoy laptop.

The subject then quickly condensed his body into a more compact state (scientifically termed the “loaf form,” see figure 6).

A lynx point Siamese cat in a loaf position with a bit of a side eye look sitting on a fake laptop.
Fig. 6. The subject demonstrates the loaf form. You can almost hear him saying, “Stop taking stupid pictures of me for this ridiculous blog post, human.”

As expected of a feline who is in loaf form, the subject quickly continued his metamorphosis into “nap form” (figure 7). The subject emitted a soft rumbling noise (a “snore”) and was lulled into rest until he was aroused by the sound of a bird outside.

A lynx point Siamese cat napping on a blue fake laptop on a desk.
Fig. 7. The subject clearly did not enjoy participating in this research experiment.

On subsequent days, the subject demonstrated similar patterns of behavior with varying degrees of time spent napping on the decoy laptop, screaming for pets, and napping in other locations. The researcher decided to vary the conditions the subject was exposed to and kept the decoy laptop closed while he continued to work at the real laptop. The subject continued to demonstrate similar level of interest in the laptop over time regardless of positioning. 

A lynx point Siamese cat resting on a blue fake laptop looking toward a real laptop.
Fig. 8. The subject, again in loaf form, on the closed laptop. He can be clearly observed trying to resist transformation into nap form.

Discussion

After running the data and performing a number of statistical analyses, the author concludes that the subject is extremely handsome and looks very cute in both regular, loaf, and nap forms. Unfortunately, that was not the intended outcome of that experiment so additional research will be needed to ensure the accuracy of this finding.

This study demonstrates that on occasion, Tik Tok gets something correct. Cats appear to be attracted to the decoy laptop when presented as an alternative to a real laptop. This is a potential solution for felines who want to rest near their humans but their humans would rather the felines do not rest on their workspace. It also provides evidence that redirecting a cat to an appropriate outlet for an unwanted behavior is an effective behavior modification tool. The author interprets this as being a result of proximity to their preferred human companions and the soft resting space along with being a result of the positive reinforcement the subject received as a result of their positioning.

The author acknowledges that the sample size of the experiment limits the generalizability of these conclusions. There was also room for error given the numerous potential confounding variables that were uncontrolled for, the complete lack of real statistical analysis, and the overall poor study design. Potential areas for future research include the exploration of other decoy materials including the use of a fake television, couch, or DJ turntable.

The author encourages cat owners to engage in the exploration of alternative methods of managing cat behavior by scheduling a consultation with Class Act Cats. Class Act Cats uses behavior modification based on actual scientific research to determine the best way to get your cat from sassy to classy. For further reading, please see Class Act Cats’ blog where you can learn about fun cat behavior topics like gay cats or practical ones like a guide on introducing cats.


Update 2/20/23: It seems like the laptop from this post isn’t available anymore. However, I did find a similar cat laptop that has a scratching surface as well.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!