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Study Finds Slow-Blinking at Your Cat Could Improve Your Communication

If you want to bond with your cat, science says this just might be the best way to say "You complete me."

By
Ellen Gutoskey, Mental Floss
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty
  • A cat's slow-blink may signify ease and contentment.
  • In a small research study, cats were significantly more likely to narrow their eyes when a human interacted with them in this way first.
  • Try narrowing your eyes at your cat as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds.
  • The slow-blink may start a sort of cat/human "conversation!"

Since your cat can’t quite grasp the meaning of “I love you,” “You complete me,” or “You’re the most handsome furry boy in the whole world,” you’ll have to find another way to get your point across. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, slow-blinking could help.

While narrowing your eyes at another human may indicate derision, suspicion, or some other negative emotion, the same probably isn’t true for your feline friends. Cats often avert their eyes when they sense danger—and maintain unbroken eye contact when they’re on the prowl—so some experts believe the slow blink signifies ease or contentment.

Narrowing your eyes at another human may indicate derision, suspicion, or some other negative emotion, but the same probably isn’t true for your feline friends.

But what happens when you slow-blink at your cat? Researchers at the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth conducted two experiments to find out. In the first, they observed each cat’s behavior in two scenarios: after their owner had slow-blinked at them, and after their owner had been present in the room but hadn’t interacted with their pet. In the second experiment, a researcher took the place of the owner, and again the cat’s behavior was recorded in two scenarios: after the researcher had slow-blinked at them, and after the researcher had adopted a neutral expression and looked next to (but not directly at) the cat.

In both experiments, ScienceAlert reports, the cats were significantly more likely to narrow their eyes when the human participants had slow-blinked at them first—regardless of who the human participant was. The second experiment revealed something else, too. In each trial, the researcher would follow up their slow blink or neutral expression by extending a hand toward the cat. Researchers found that the cats were more likely to approach if the person had slow-blinked first. In other words, the findings suggest that not only do cats consider eye-narrowing a positive gesture, but it can also be used as a form of interspecies communication.

Findings suggest that not only do cats consider eye-narrowing a positive gesture, but it can also be used as a form of interspecies communication.

Because only 18 cats were tested in each experiment, further research is needed. But as University of Sussex psychology professor Karen McComb explained in a press release, “it’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”

“It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats,” she said. “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.”

A version of this article was originally published on Mental Floss as "Study Finds Slow-Blinking at Your Cat Could Improve Your Communication." Read more from Mental Floss.

About the Author

Ellen Gutoskey, Mental Floss

Ellen Gutoskey is a Mental Floss staff writer who especially loves covering pop culture, not-so-popular culture, literature, really tiny things, really giant things, and anything that was previously thought to be lost. She used to work in publishing, and she's usually laughing.