Anyone who’s ever owned a cat knows that they can be fickle beasts. One minute they’re happily taking scratchies on the head. The next minute they are clawing your hand and biting your fingers. A team of psychologists from the University of Sussex and Portsmouth has published a new paper discussing bonding with cats. The study is called “The role of cat eye narrowing movements in cat-human communication.”
The psychologists say that the eye narrowing action by humans generates something known as the cat smile. The so-called “slow blink” appears to make humans more attractive to the cat. Eye narrowing movements in cats have parallels with the Duchenne smile or genuine smile in humans. Researchers Dr. Tasmin Humphrey and Prof. Karen McComb, both animal behavior scientists at the University, performed two experiments on cats.
The first experiment revealed that cats are more likely to slow blink at owners after their owners have slow blink at them compared to when there is no interaction. In the second experiment, researchers from the psychology team, rather than the cat’s owner, found cats were more likely to approach the researcher’s outstretched hand after they had slow blinked at the cat. The cat was less likely to approach the researcher’s outstretched hand when the scientist had a neutral expression.
The study found that the slow blinking technique can provide positive communication between cats and humans. The cats were also more likely to slow blink at an unfamiliar person when they slowly blinked at them. McComb says that it’s exciting to have found evidence to support what many cat owners suspected, humans and cats can communicate by eyeing narrowing.
Humphrey says that the research provides understanding into the positive ways that felines and humans can interact and enhances the public understanding of cats. The findings will also help improve feline welfare and sheds light on the socio-cognitive abilities of cats.