Scientists faced dozens of cats with their own “slow blink” and found cats responded positively.
Cats are resilient, and their behaviors aren’t very well understood because of how hard they are to study.
Try slow blinking with your cat today. It’s for science.
In a new study, scientists experimented with a small sample size of cats and their owners to find the efficacy of the “cat smile”: a slow blink that cats do when they feel content, which can be reflected back by owners.
The slow blink sometimes seems like a consequence of cats’ Dionysian lifestyle. They’re happy and restful, they eat and drink when they want, and they’re icons of leisure. Who could be bothered to blink at regular speed? That’s like a sloth taking a jog.
But the slow blink is more complex than that, and scientists still don’t really understand it.
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“This study examines the communicatory significance of a widely reported cat behaviour that involves eye narrowing, referred to as the slow blink sequence,” the scientists explain in their new paper. “Slow blink sequences typically involve a series of half-blinks followed by either a prolonged eye narrow or an eye closure.”
The slow blink emerges in specific contexts that have helped scientists posit that it’s, at least, a broadly good feeling. “Domestic animals are sensitive to human cues that facilitate inter-specific communication, including cues to emotional state,” they explain. “The eyes are important in signalling emotions, with the act of narrowing the eyes appearing to be associated with positive emotional communication in a range of species.”
For this experiment, researchers visited cat owners and—this is the best part—modeled slow blinking in order to teach all the owners how to do it the same way for the experiment. They explain:
“The experimenters demonstrated the slow blink action, an eye closure (lasting more than 0.5 [seconds]), and gave advice verbally on how to perform the facial actions associated with slow blinking. The experimenter also gave verbal instructions on the intensity of these actions and then asked the owner to produce the slow blink movements to check that the cue was appropriate, giving corrections if necessary.”
Most importantly, “the cat was present at all times throughout the experiment.”
Once the cats naturally found and settled into a comfortable spot, the owners approached and did their newly certified slow blink. The scientists measured how long each cat hung around as well as monitoring their number of eye movements during the trial, arriving at a calculated average time per eye movement. In a second experiment, they paired slow blinking with the classic “holding out a flat open hand” gesture of universal cat luring.
They found that cats responded better to their owners, strangers, andthe extended hand lure after being primed by slow blink behaviors. The researchers conclude:
“The study produces evidence that cats perceive human slow blinking in a positive way, as subjects prefer to approach an experimenter after a slow blink interaction has occurred, compared to when the experimenter adopts a neutral facial expression without direct eye contact with the cat.”
Source: Popular Mechanics