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 cats themselves 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’s great 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 the University of Portsmouth website. The two institutions worked together to produce the study, published in Scientific Reports.
It was previously suspected that cats’ slow blink was an indication that they are feeling relaxed and non-threatened, and that cats often look at each other this way as a show of friendship. By contrast, a stare-down is often considered a threat in the animal world. The two-part experiment found that cats tend not to initiate the slow blink at their owner; rather, they wait for a human’s prompt before returning in kind. In the next test, scientists discovered that cats were more willing to approach a human’s outstretched hand if they had also used the slow-blink technique to greet the cat, as opposed to participants who imparted a neutral expression.