Recently, my aunt suggested I slowly blink at her mercurial cat to get his attention. This is a cat that ignores you most of the day and might scratch at you during the times he deigns to lovingly rub against your leg. It turns out, she wasn’t wrong.
In a study published this week in the journal Nature, psychologists in the United Kingdom researched dozens of cats with healthy eyesight to test their reactions to slow blinks with two experiments. Researchers defined slow blinks as “a series of half-blinks followed by either a prolonged eye narrow or eye closure.”
The cats were much more likely to narrow their eyes at their owner when they slow blinked than when their owners didn’t interact with them. When strangers slowly blinked at a different set of cats, the fussy felines were more likely to approach them.
Researchers think these experiments provide evidence that cats interpret slow blinking from humans in a favorable way — whether from their own human or an unfamiliar one.
In the first experiment, 14 owners of 21 cats were instructed to slow blink at their cats while at home. Then, after each cat was settled in one spot, the owner sat no more than three feet away and slow blinked at their cat or ignored it completely.
The second experiment included 24 different cats and repeated the same experiment but a stranger was swapped for each cat’s owner. The strangers also tried to entice the cats to walk toward them by either slow blinking or directing a neutral expression at the cats with zero eye contact. Slow blinking worked better than the neutral expression. To see how it’s done, check out the videos in the study’s “supplementary information” section.
Given the study’s small sample size, more research is needed to know how cats actually feel when they respond to slow blinking, Gizmodo, which first covered the research. Until then, it’s still fun to think about slow blinking at cats. Just like it’s fun to think about whether cats are right-handed or left-handed like humans.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll conduct my own set of experiments and then give the researchers a call. I’ve got six subjects of my own at home.