You can bond with your cat by narrowing your eyes and blinking slowly
- One of the best ways to build a rapport with your cat is to narrow your eyes and blink slowly at them, a recent study shows.
- To cats, slow blinking is a form of smiling, and solicits happy, positive emotions.
- The researchers found that a cat will respond to a human's slow blink with a slow blink of their own, and is more likely to approach an unfamiliar person who is slow blinking at them.
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While most dogs throw themselves at your feet for affection, it can be challenging to get a new cat to trust you enough to say hi.
That could be because cats speak a different love language.
Humans can use slow blinking as a means of bonding with their feline friends, according to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers already knew that when cats narrow their eyes and blink slowly at one another, it's the cat version of exchanging a genuine smile.
But the recent study shows that, when people replicate that grin by narrowing their eyes and slow blinking, it makes them more attractive to the cat they're smiling at — and the cat more likely to approach.
"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," Karen McComb, an animal behavior scientist from the University of Sussex and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
"It's something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it's exciting to have found evidence for it," she added.
Cats are more likely to approach a stranger who is slow blinking at them
In order to test whether slow blinking was a type of communication that could cross the species barrier, McComb and her team conducted two experiments.
First, they studied 21 cats in 14 different UK homes. The researchers had the animals' owners sit three feet away and slow blink at their cats — each blink lasting more than half a second. Cameras captured the cats' reactions to being blinked at, and revealed the cats were more likely to slow blink back at owners who blinked at them compared to owners who didn't blink at all.
In the second experiment, McComb's team looked at 18 cats from eight households. Instead of having the owners slow blink at their cats, the researchers — who were unfamiliar to the cats — did the blinking, and slowly extended their hands towards the animals.
They found that cats were more likely to approach a stranger's extended hand after that stranger had slow blinked at them, compared to when the strange researchers adopted a neutral expression. The cats also more readily slow blinked back at the researchers who were slow blinking.
"The study produces evidence that cats perceive human slow blinking in a positive way," the authors wrote.
'You can start a sort of a conversation' with cats
It's not clear why cats view slow blinkers more warmly than people who stare, but the researchers have some ideas.
Cats may perceive direct eye contact from humans as threatening, Tasmin Humphrey, a co-author of the new study, said in a press release.
"It is also possible that slow blinking in cats began as a way to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in social interaction," she added.
Slow blinking is a great way to get your cat to relax, according to McComb.
"It is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street. 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."
Slow blinking could improve the rapport between cats and their veterinarians and caretakers
A growing body of research suggests cats are more in tune with their owners than the pets' typically standoffish nature suggest.
Felines can clue into human emotional cues and butt their heads against an owner who feels sad to offer comfort. Cats also know their own names, even if they choose to ignore such salutations, and use purring as a means to grab humans' attention.
But the more researchers know about what makes these animals relax, the better people can care for cats in stressful situations.
Slow blinking "appears to be an indicator of positive emotion in cats," the study authors wrote, and humans can use that indicator to gauge how cats are feeling.
"Our findings could potentially be used to assess the welfare of cats in a variety of settings, including veterinary practices and shelters," Humphrey said.
It's not just cats that narrow their gazes when they're happy: Other mammals — including horses, cows, sheep, and dogs — all narrow their eyes during activities that relax them, like feeding, grooming, and playing.