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Humans Can Communicate With Cats by Blinking, Scientists Say

Cat Communication
Scientists Confirm You Can Communicate With Your Cat by Blinking Credit: Tambako The Jaguar CC BY-ND 2.0 / Flickr

A study on cat-human interactions has confirmed that cat owners can communicate with their pet cats by blinking.

Scientists observed cat-human interactions and were able to confirm that this act of blinking slowly makes humans more approachable by cats while cats become more receptive to their owners.

Cats are known to have a bit of a reputation for their standoffishness, especially compared to dogs. Failure to bond with them could be due to not understanding their language so to say although researchers indicated it’s not so difficult to communicate with them.

It takes just a little smile with the cat

Scientists said cat owners just need to smile at them more but not in the usual human way of baring teeth. Rather, this should be done in a way more acceptable to cats, namely by narrowing one’s eyes and blinking slowly.

Researchers explained that a person who has spent time around cats has probably noticed their partially closed eyes accompanied by slow blinking.

This particular expression by cats is actually similar to how human eyes narrow when smiling and usually occurs when cats are relaxed and content. Therefore, the expression is interpreted as a kind of cat smile.

Karen McComb, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in the UK, explained the results of the study: “As someone who has both studied animal behavior and is a cat owner, it’s great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way.”

She added that “it’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”

Therefore, subjective evidence from cat owners has hinted that humans can copy this expression to communicate friendliness and open interaction to cats.

Experiments conducted to determine cat reaction with slow-blinking humans

During the study, a team of psychologists designed two experiments to determine whether cats behaved differently towards slow-blinking humans.

In the first experiment, owners slow-blinked at twenty-one cats from fourteen different households. They then instructed owners to sit about a meter away and slow-blink when the cat was looking at them once it was settled and comfy in one spot in their home.

The cameras were placed in such a way that they recorded both the owner’s face and the cat’s face. The results were compared to how cats blink with no human interaction.

According to the results, cats were noted to be more likely to slow-blink at humans after owners had blinked slowly at their pets. This was in comparison to the condition of no interaction.

The second experiment included twenty-four cats from eight different households. This time, the researchers rather than the cat owners did the blinking. The researchers had had no prior contact with the cats.

For purposes of control, the cats were recorded responding to a no-blink condition in which humans stared at the cats without blinking their eyes.

The same slow-blink process was performed just as in the first experiment, adding an extended hand towards the cat. In this case, it was found that the cats were not only more likely to blink back but that they were more likely to approach the human’s hand after the human had blinked.

First investigation on blinking in cat-human communication

McComb said, “This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat-human communication, and it is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street.”

She added that “it’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats. Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation.”

Dogs versus cats

Although dogs may be a lot more enthusiastically demonstrative than cats, for cat lovers, the slow blinking phenomenon might not come as a surprise because recent research has shown that our feline friends are a lot more in tune with their human housemates than previously believed.

Therefore, it is argued that a comparison between dogs and cats is a disservice because cats only respond to humans who are receptive to them. Hence, if you find cats standoffish, that may indicate something about your own particular manner rather than the feline itself.

In addition, cats exhibit personality traits of humans with whom they reside. This may explain why cats seem to pick up on their owners’ sadness. Furthermore, this may also help them to recognize their names.

Although cats choose to ignore their human friends most of the time, bonds with their owners are, however, surprisingly deep.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to know why cats slow-blink at humans in this way. In most cases, it has been interpreted as a way of signaling benign intentions since cats are believed to interpret unbroken staring as threatening.

Since humans respond positively to cats’ slow blinking, it is possible that felines developed the expression over time to form positive interactions with humans.

However, to improve the emotional health of our cats, it is important to learn how to improve our relationships with these enigmatic animals not just in the home environment but across a range of potentially stressful situations.

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