A recent study by animal behavior scientists at the Universities of Portsmouth and Sussex shows that cats respond to eye narrowing, generally with a cat smile (the “slow blink”). The eye-narrowing technique seems to make the human more attractive to the cat. Eye-narrowing movements in cats have parallels with the genuine human smile (called the Duchenne smile—it engages muscles around the mouth and eyes).
The study cats were more likely to slow blink if their owner or an unfamiliar person slow blinked at them than if that person did not. The researchers noted that cats preferred to approach an experimenter after that person slow blinked at the cat than if they had maintained a neutral expression.
Professor Karen McComb, who supervised the work, said: “It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats. 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 cats respond in the same way and you can start a sort of conversation.”
The study used two experiments, both done in the cats’ homes. The first involved 14 households (10 male cats and 11 females) with the owner using the slow-blink method. The second included eight households (12 males and 12 females) with the researcher trying either a slow blink or a neutral face without eye contact. The reactions of both experiments were videotaped and analyzed.n
Humphrey, T., et al. “The role of cat eye narrowing movements in cat–human communication.” Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-73426-0