A team of psychologists from the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth have perfected the art of building a closer bond of humans with cats.
His work, published in Nature Scientific Reports, has shown for the first time that it is possible to establish a relationship with a cat by using an eye-narrowing technique with them. This action of squinting by humans generates something popularly known as a cat smile, the so-called “slow blink”, and it seems to make the human more attractive to the cat.
Squinting movements in cats have some parallels to genuine human smiles (Duchenne’s smile), as well as squinting movements in positive situations in some other species.
The team, led by doctor Tasmin Humphrey and the teacher Karen McComb, animal behavior scientists at the University of Sussex, conducted two experiments.
The first revealed that cats are more likely to blink slowly at their owners after their owners blink at them slowly, compared to when they don’t interact at all. The second experiment, this time with a researcher from the psychology team, rather than the owner, found that the cats were more likely to approach the outstretched hand of the experimenter after blinking slowly towards the cat, compared to when they had adopted a tone of neutral expression. Taken together, the study shows that this slow blink technique can provide a positive form of communication between cats and humans.
The teacher Karen McComb, from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, who supervised the work, said in a statement: “As someone who has studied animal behavior and owns a cat, it is great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate. This is something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it is exciting to have found evidence of it.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in communication between cats and humans.. And it’s something you can try yourself with your own cat at home or with the cats you meet on the street. It’s a great way to improve your bond with cats. Try squinting at them like you would with a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You will see that they respond in the same way and you can start a kind of conversation. “