Cats have a stable history, especially compared to dogs. But if you find that your best friend is difficult to get along with, you may not be speaking their language.
Research shows that it really isn’t that difficult. You just have to give them a big smile.
Not the human smile, by baring the teeth, but the cat way: by rubbing the eyes and blinking slowly.
In a study published in 2020, scientists observed the interaction of cats with people, and they were able to confirm that this blinking slowly makes cats – both familiar and unknown animals – approach and obey people.
“As someone who has studied animal behavior and is a cat owner, it is good to show that cats and people can communicate in this way,” psychologist Karen McComb of the University of Sussex in the UK explained when the results of the study were published.
“It’s something that many cat owners have suspected before, so it’s exciting to find evidence for it.”
If you’ve ever been around cats, you’ve probably seen their faces ‘slightly closed’, which is accompanied by slow blinking. It is similar to the way human eyes narrow when they smile, and it usually happens when the eyes are relaxed and content. The word is interpreted as a cat’s smile.
Anecdotal evidence from cat owners has shown that humans can use these words to communicate with cats that they are friendly and open to interactions. Therefore, in this study, a group of psychologists made two experiments to find out if cats behave differently from people who shoot slowly.
In the first experiment, the owners looked closely at 21 cats from 14 different families. After the cat was settled and comfortable in one place in their home, the owners were instructed to stay one meter away and blink slowly when the cat looked at them.
The cameras recorded the owner’s face and the cat’s face, and the results were compared to how cats blink without interacting with humans.
The results showed that the cats were able to slow down to their people after their people looked at them slowly, compared to the non-associative condition.
The second experiment included 24 cats from eight families. This time, it wasn’t the owners who blinked but the researchers, who had never met a cat before. For self-control, the cats were recorded making non-gaze responses, in which humans looked at the cats without blinking.
The researchers performed the same step-by-step procedure as the first experiment, adding an outstretched hand to the cat. And they found that not only cats can blink back, but that they can approach a person’s hand after the person has blinked.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in communication between cats and humans,” McComb said.
“And it’s something you can try yourself with your cat at home, or cats you meet on the street. It’s a good way to strengthen the bond you have with cats. Try to look at them as much as you can comfortably. smile, and close your eyes for a few seconds. You will find that they respond in kind and you can start a conversation.”
Dogs may be faster demonstrator than cats, but to cat lovers, the slow reaction will come as no surprise.
Research in recent years has shown that our feline friends are more closely related to their housemates than previously thought, and that comparing them to dogs is pointless.
Cats, for example, respond kindly to people who listen to them – so if you find cats standing still, this may be a problem with you, not the cat.
In the same way, cats match the personalities of the people who live with them – this may be related to why cats seem to pick up when their people are sad. They can even recognize their own names (although they choose to ignore them most of the time). And their relationships with people are incredibly deep.
It’s hard to know why cats are so slow to blink at people. It is interpreted as a way to show good intentions, since cats are thought to interpret unbroken stares as a threat.
But it’s also possible that cats invented the word because humans respond well to it. With domesticated animals, it is often impossible to tell.
Either way, it seems to help build relationships. And that’s a good thing to know. Learning how to improve our relationships with these mysterious animals can also be a way to improve their mental health – not only at home, but in a variety of situations that can be difficult.
This study was published in Scientific Reports.
An earlier version of this article was published in October 2020.