Ask any cat lover what a “slow blink” is, and chances are they’ll know it’s a sure sign that their cat is enjoying their company. A recent study published in Scientific Reports analyzed this form of human-cat communication and found that both cats and humans appreciate bonding via the slow blink!
The authors note that many companion animals are very tuned in to human gestures and cues. Studies have shown that dogs, as well as horses, pigs, and other animals, are able to glean information from our non-verbal cues.
Cats are also adept at communicating with us. Cats know that well-timed meows, purrs, and head rubs can be rewarded by treats or petting from humans. The slow blink is a commonly used form of cat-human communication that is viewed as a calming and positive behavior.
What exactly is a slow blink? The authors define it as a series of half blinks, followed by a prolonged narrowing of the eye or a full eye closing.
In the study, they examined if cats responded to human-initiated slow blinks with ones of their own, and how they interact with a slow blinking human vs. people with a neutral facial expression.
The researchers found that cats commonly responded to human blinks with their own eye narrowing, and male cats were more likely to respond than female cats.
In the second part of the study, the cats were significantly more likely to approach the slow blinking humans than the neutral faced people.
The authors concluded that cats perceive this form of cat-human interaction in a positive way, with the slow blink signaling relaxation. While not tested in these experiments, the authors note that cats are often the ones to initiate slow blink interactions with humans.
It is not known whether this behavior is an evolved trait or learned over time. The authors note that, like meows, cats may have learned that we humans enjoy interacting in this way. It could also be that the blink is a way to break a stare, which can be seen as threatening.
Evaluating this form of feline behavior can be used to gain insight into how cats are feeling in a variety of settings, not just in the home but also in places like veterinary practices and animal shelters.
Interested in learning more about the cat-human bond? Check out our blog article on how cats attach to their humans HERE.