INTELLIGENT and elegant creatures, our feline friends have a reputation for being rather aloof and independent, but a way of communicating with our pet cats has been confirmed by researchers.

What’s the method?

Psychologists at the Universities of Portsmouth and Sussex published a new study that reveals a definitive way for cat owners to communicate and build a rapport with their pets - by mimicking a “cat smile”.

A “cat smile”?

The research, which is detailed in the online journal Scientific Reports, states that humans who make slow-blinking, eye-narrowing facial expressions to imitate a cat’s expression appear more agreeable, friendlier and receptive to cats.

Blinking heck?

Scientists observed that the simple slow-blink and eye-narrowing measures impacted interactions between cats and humans, making felines  - both familiar and strange - more likely to approach humans.

It’s the first study of its kind?

Professor Karen McComb, from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, who led the research, said: "This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat–human communication. As someone who has both studied animal behaviour and is a cat owner, it’s great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way. It’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”

Try it at home?

Professor McComb said “it’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats”, advising cat owners to “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”.

How did the experiment work?

The researchers tested slow-blinks and neutral facial expressions in front of more than 40 cats and found that many returned the slow-blink and preferred to approach a person who displayed this expression over a person who displayed a neutral expression.


Although blinks are important, the researchers concluded that purring remains the dominant method for cat communication, allowing them to “attract and manipulate human attention”.

So why do cats slow-blink?

"In terms of why cats behave in this way, it could be argued that cats developed the slow blink behaviours because humans perceived slow blinking as positive," said Dr Tasmin Humphrey, first author of the study, adding "Cats may have learned that humans reward them for responding to slow blinking”.

The findings improve our understanding of cats?

The research team say understanding specific ways in which cats and humans may interact positively, such as through eye narrowing movements, can “enhance public understanding of cats and feline welfare, particularly considering the close bond cats and humans share”. And as slow blink interactions appear to be a positive experience for cats - and may be an indicator of positive emotions - such findings could potentially be used to assess the welfare of cats in a variety of settings.