Researchers find cats respond to relaxed smile and slow blink from humans

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A team of psychologists at the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth recently released a study on human and cat communication, which found that it is possible to build rapport with a cat by using an eye-narrowing technique.

“The role of cat eye narrowing movements in cat-human communication,” was published online in the Nature journal Scientific Reports on Oct. 5.

The research team, led by Dr. Tasmin Humphrey and Professor Karen McComb, animal behaviour scientists at the University of Sussex, undertook two experiments.

The first revealed that cats are more likely to slow blink at their owners after their owners have slow blinked at them, compared to when they don’t interact at all.

The second experiment, this time with a researcher from the psychology team, rather than the owner, found that the cats were more likely to approach the experimenter’s outstretched hand after the experimenter slow blinked at the cat, compared to when they had adopted a neutral expression.

McCombs added that anyone looking to try this method, should narrow their eyes (through a relaxed smile) at a cat followed by closing your ones for a couple of seconds.

“You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation,” she stated.

Humphrey, a doctoral candidate in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex during the work, was the first author of the study.

“Understanding positive ways in which cats and humans interact can enhance public understanding of cats, improve feline welfare, and tell us more about the socio-cognitive abilities of this under-studied species,” Humphrey related. “Our findings could potentially be used to assess the welfare of cats in a variety of settings, including veterinary practices and shelters.

Why do cats slow blink?

Humphrey postulated that blinking in cats may have started as a way to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in social interaction.

The first experiment included a total of 21 cats from 14 different households. Fourteen different owners participated in experiment 1.

Experiment 2 included a total of 24 additional cats. Twelve cats were male and 12 cats were female, with cat age ranging from an estimated 1-17 years old. The cats included in the final analyses were from 8 different households.

‘The role of cat eye narrowing movements in cat-human communication’ by Tasmin Humphrey, Leanne Proops, Jemma Forman, Rebecca Spooner and Karen McComb published in Scientific Reports is open access at



  1. I know. I remember reading about the slow blink a few years ago and, since then, I always do it with my cats. It’s nice to have scientific proof though. 🙂

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