Categories: facial expressions

‘Cat Whisperers’ don’t just read cats’ facial expressions but body language too (plus a quiz)

There is a study out and the media have latched onto it. In doing so they have distorted it. The reports say that 13 participants achieved a 75% success rate in reading cats’ facial expressions. These were the cat whisperers. They were often people like veterinarians. You can read the study in its entirety by clicking on the link below:

Reading cat facial expressions

Women were thus more likely than men to correctly identify cats’ affective states. This is the first demonstration of such an effect for cats, but is consistent with previous research demonstrating that women have greater abilities to decode non-verbal displays of emotion in both humans

Holistic approach – body language and circumstance

The important point that I want to bring to the debate is that the way so called cat whisperers interpret the enigmatic feline facial expression is through a holistic approach.

They read feline facial expressions in the context of the cat’s body language and the circumstances. I don’t think it is possible to read feline facial expression alone out of context and devoid of accompanying body language except for obvious ones such as pain. And in real life situations it is impossible and pointless to try and read a cat’s facial expression while ignoring all other signs

Quiz on cat facial expressions

Well, you can read very simple facial expressions which convey either a positive of negative feeling but if a person wants a more subtle interpretation you read the face in context and not in isolation of everything else.

There is a quiz which does show feline facial expressions only or that’s the intention. I did it and scored 75% because one of the expressions is ambiguous but it’s usefulness is questionable because, as mentioned, no one reads facial expresssions – feline or human – in isolation. We instinctively read them in context other factors.

The study also found that women were marginally better than men at reading cat facial expressions. This is probably because more women than men prefer cats as companions and it may be because they are more attuned to these social skills.

The study also concluded that young people were better than older people at it. I don’t believe this. It looks like a mistake to me. Not that I am against young people. It’s just that older cat guardians are more likely to have gained experience. More than 6,000 people participated from 85 countries. They watched cat videos.


Grumpy Cat. Twitter feed of Grumpy Cat. Grumpy Cat was never grumpy. It’s just the bone structure.

We have be aware of cat anatomy too. The famous Grumpy Cat expression was not in any way linked to grumpiness. It was the cat’s bone structure which gave this impression. The French purebred cat, the Chartreux is called the smiling cat. Once again this due to the cat’s anatomy. The Chartreux is not alway smiling! There are many ‘ordinary’ cats with facial anatomy which gives the cat a false facial expression.

Smiling Chartreux cat


The ability to read a cat’s mind comes from experience. Reading facial expressions is part of the process. The cat has inherited a passive face from the wildcat. The reason is probably to do with survival. It is the same reason why cats show limited signs of pain. Once again experience tells us what to look for.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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