A Predominant Feline Emotion: Frustration

Nose licking as feline displacement-activity
Nose licking as feline displacement-activity and a sign of feline frustration or is it?. This is my late cat Charlie outside being unsure of himself.
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The emotion of frustration in cats results in the largest number of facial actions. This appears to be one of the findings of yet another study this time at London University. I’ll quote from the article by Tom Whipple of the Times newspaper if I may:

Far and away most of the cats’ expressiveness was reserved for what is clearly a predominant feline emotion though: frustration.

For some reason the scientists created three emotional categories: fear, frustration and relaxation. I think they were chosen for the simple reason that the cats demonstrated these emotions when observed. Perhaps they were the predominant emotions observed.

Relaxed cats gaze to the right apparently. I am not sure if that is correct to be honest. Fearful cats blink and gaze left!

Frustrated cats have the following facial expressions and actions (I add my comment where I can):

  • hissing (comment: hissing is associated with defensive behavior so I am not sure where the frustration comes in).
  • nose licking (comment: this is displacement behavior which takes place when the cat is unsure in much the same way that humans bite their fingernails. As being unsure or undecided about something can result in frustration I can see the connection).
  • dropping of the jaw
  • raising of the upper lip
  • nose wrinkling
  • lip depression
  • parting of the lips
  • mouth stretching
  • vocalising and showing of the tongue

The scientists observed 29 cats at a Canadian shelter on 275 occasions. The report is published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Frustrated cat
Frustrated cat

I don’t recognise a lot of these facial expressions. I don’t notice them and I am fairly observant but they are rather strange descriptions. But the cat above definitely looks frustrated! His expression is that of a human and does not clearly fit the ones described. I have not been able to find the research document online to read more on this. At the moment I have doubts about the research and its usefulness.

If frustration is a predominant cat emotion it must inform us about how domestic cats feel a lot of the time in their role as companions to humans. Perhaps the frustration comes out of the fact that cats are barely domesticated and therefore they are frustrated at being prevented from expressing their natural, wild cat drives and desires.

See another recent page on feline behavior.

5 thoughts on “A Predominant Feline Emotion: Frustration”

  1. I don’t see frustration in the above list. Most of the cats I have had show their frustration in a look that says “I’m going to bite you if you don’t stop that stupid behavior!” following that with a hiss.

  2. Well, interesting…
    In my world, frustration is a precursor to anger.
    I can’t really relate to the list above.
    What signs I experience are squinted, intense eyes, contracted pupils, and avoidance if we’re talking about a domesticated cat. A semi-feral would display some aggression rather than avoidance such as slapping a caretaker’s hand.

  3. Another questionable study by people who may or may not be that familiar with cats. Without looking at it: how it was done, questioning things, I can’t understand it or it’s conclusions. As Michael, I don’t recognize some of it or get the “yeah, they do that don’t they!”. I’ll actually observe my cats with these things in mind to give it a real world smell test.

    • You echo my thoughts Albert. I think scientist want to get some recognition for personal gain and they dream up a study on cats because they know cats are popular on the internet but as you say they are probably not cat “owners”. Long term, experienced cat owners could tell them a thing or two about cat emotions and behavior.


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