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While the limpid love of puppy-dog eyes is given a lot of play—and research—a new study says the eyes have it when communicating with your feline friend.
As just published in Nature/Scientific Reports, the first-of-its-kind study shows it’s possible to build rapport with a cat by using a blinking technique with them. By narrowing your eyes and then slowly blinking, humans appear to become more attractive to cats in a manner similar to when humans use genuine smiles with each other.
Study researchers ran two different experiments, each featuring more than 20 cats from several different households. In the first experiment, psychologists showed owners how to slow-blink when interacting with their cats; in the second experiment, researchers unknown to the cats either kept neutral expressions or slow-blinked at the cats.
The researchers found:
- Cats were more likely to slow-blink at their owners if their owners had slow-blinked at them, compared to when the owner was present in the room but not delivering a slow-blink stimulus.
- Cats were more likely to slow-blink when an unfamiliar experimenter slow-blinked at them, compared to when an experimenter maintained a neutral expression.
- Cats preferred to approach an experimenter after the experimenter had slow-blinked at the cat instead of when experimenters maintained a neutral expression.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow-blinking in cat-human communication,” said study lead author Professor Karen McComb of England’s University of Sussex School of Psychology, who is both an animal behavioralist and a cat owner. “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 they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation.”