Since your cat can’t quite grasp the meaning of “I love you,” “You complete me,” or “You’re the most handsome furry boy in the whole world,” you’ll have to find another way to get your point across. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, slow-blinking could help.
While narrowing your eyes at another human may indicate derision, suspicion, or some other negative emotion, the same probably isn’t true for your feline friends. Cats often avert their eyes when they sense danger—and maintain unbroken eye contact when they’re on the prowl—so some experts believe the slow blink signifies ease or contentment.
But what happens when you slow-blink at your cat? Researchers at the University of Sussex and the University of Portsmouth conducted two experiments to find out. In the first, they observed each cat’s behavior in two scenarios: after their owner had slow-blinked at them, and after their owner had been present in the room but hadn’t interacted with their pet. In the second experiment, a researcher took the place of the owner, and again the cat’s behavior was recorded in two scenarios: after the researcher had slow-blinked at them, and after the researcher had adopted a neutral expression and looked next to (but not directly at) the cat.
In both experiments, ScienceAlert reports, the cats were significantly more likely to narrow their eyes when the human participants had slow-blinked at them first—regardless of who the human participant was. The second experiment revealed something else, too. In each trial, the researcher would follow up their slow blink or neutral expression by extending a hand toward the cat. Researchers found that the cats were more likely to approach if the person had slow-blinked first. In other words, the findings suggest that not only do cats consider eye-narrowing a positive gesture, but it can also be used as a form of interspecies communication.
Because only 18 cats were tested in each experiment, further research is needed. But as University of Sussex psychology professor Karen McComb explained in a press release, “it’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”
“It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats,” she said. “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.”