How to befriend a cat in the blink of an eye

Interesting article in The Times on research around making friends with cats …

Original Article Below ……

In 2009 the model Tyra Banks invented a new word. To “smize” involved smiling with one’s eyes and for Banks it was key to thriving on the catwalk. Now scientists have suggested that it also holds the key to building a rapport with a cat.

A study has found that cats respond to humans when we narrow our eyes in a kind of slow-motion blink.

Sometimes known as a “cat smile”, researchers said yesterday that they had demonstrated for the first time that the gesture really does communicate some sort of meaning between felines and their humans. They suggested that cats were one of several animals that responded to aspects of the so-called Duchenne smile — defined as a natural smile, which raises the corners of the mouth and creates crow’s feet around the eyes. In particular, they seem to like the “smize” part.

There were two experiments, the first involving 21 cats from 14 households.

They were more likely to slow-blink at their owners after the owners had slow-blinked at them, compared with when the human had remained impassive.

The second experiment involved one of the researchers, rather than the cat’s owner. Some 45 cats, aged between 1 and 17, were tested and they were more likely to approach the outstretched hand of a stranger after the human had slow-blinked, compared with when they had maintained a neutral expression.

Cats were also more likely to slow blink after an unfamiliar person had slow-blinked at them. “Taken together, the study shows that this slow blinking technique can provide a form of positive communication between cats and humans,” the researchers concluded. The results were published yesterday in Scientific Reports.

Karen McComb, from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, who supervised the study, said: “It’s great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way. It’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it. “This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat–human communication. And it is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street.

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.”

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