Blink once if you love cats.
Animal behaviorists have revealed the most effective way to befriend a feline:the “slow blink.”
The new research suggests that humans can signal goodwill by learning how catsthemselves smile — that is, when a cat narrows its eyes and shuts them,holding them closed for a few brief moments. The move is a show of accord,both between cats and with their human companions.
“As someone who has both studied animal behavior and is a cat owner, it’sgreat to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way,”said University of Sussex Professor Karen McComb in a statement on theUniversity of Portsmouth website. The two institutions worked together toproduce the study, published in Scientific Reports.
“It’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s excitingto have found evidence for it.”
McComb described the routine: “Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would ina relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’llfind they respond in the same way themselves, and you can start a sort ofconversation.”
It was previously suspected that cats’ slow blink was an indication that theyare feeling relaxed and non-threatened, and that cats often look at each otherthis way as a show of friendship. By contrast, a stare-down is oftenconsidered a threat in the animal world.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slowblinking in cat–human communication,” McComb claimed.
Their two-part experiment found that cats tend not to initiate the slow blinkat their owner; rather, they wait for a human’s prompt before returning inkind. In the next test, scientists discovered that cats were more willing toapproach a human’s outstretched hand if they had also used the slow-blinktechnique to greet the cat, as opposed to participants who imparted a neutralexpression.
“Understanding positive ways in which cats and humans interact can enhancepublic understanding of cats, improve feline welfare, and tell us more aboutthe socio-cognitive abilities of this under-studied species,” said Dr. TasminHumphrey, who co-led the research with McComb. The findings are particularlyuseful for veterinarians and rescuers to better assess feline welfare andemotions.
Paradoxically, Humphrey theorizes that cats may have adopted the habit moreregularly after noticing that humans were the ones who felt more relaxed aftera cat’s slow blink.
“In terms of why cats behave in this way, it could be argued that catsdeveloped the slow blink behaviors because humans perceived slow blinking aspositive,” she explained. “Cats may have learned that humans reward them forresponding to slow blinking.”
Humphrey continued, “It is also possible that slow blinking in cats began as away to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in socialinteraction.”
McComb suggests all cat lovers make use of their discovery.
“It is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with catsyou meet in the street. It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have withcats,” she said.
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