The Hervey Foundation for Cats

How to Smile at Cats (With Your Eyes!)

As you may have noticed, cats don’t really have distinct facial expressions. If it wasn’t for their fluffy adorable faces, the distinct emptiness in their eyes might be somewhat terrifying. But of course, cats are filled to the brim with love and other emotions, they just do not express it with the muscles in their scrunchy little faces like humans do. Cats use different signals to communicate, and researchers are starting to understand those signals.

You can’t tell, but this is the happiest moment of this cat’s life.

Despite this disconnect between human and feline communication, cat owners across the globe feel a strong connection with their cats. More than that, it’s easy to tell that many cats love their humans. Cats get excited when their owners come home, cats want to cuddle, and there are even examples of cats protecting their human friends. But aside from these obvious loving behaviours, how can you tell a cat that you are comfortable with them?

Aside from copious amounts of cuddling of course.

With your eyes apparently! More specifically, with blinking. Researchers have found that cats communicate trust to each other with a nice slow blink. To cats, a slow blink is like a big happy smile. Perhaps in the cat world, this is their way of saying “I don’t need to keep my eyes on you, because I trust you”.

And this is how cats say “I’m considering eating you”.

In the study, complete strangers would “slow blink” towards unfamiliar cats. More specifically, they would use a “series of half-blinks followed by either a prolonged eye narrowing or a full eye closure.” Afterwards, the cats would be more likely to approach the slow-blinking person, compared to when they showed no expressions. Basically, cats were much faster to trust someone when the person slow blinked.

When you think about it, this might be a far superior way of communicating. Even if you are the laziest person on Earth, you can still throw out some loving blinks, and it doesn’t confuse the emotion with clumsy words.

So, if you are ever trying to introduce yourself to a new cat, remember that wide open eyes and big teeth-y smiles may not be the best approach. Although closing your eyes in someone’s face while they are talking may be considered rude, and your peers may call you “that weird person who looks sleepy all the time”, you might just become the favourite person of all nearby cats. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73426-0