Do cats pick up on human emotions? Yes, certainly if it is the cat’s guardian (owner) who is interacting with the cat. This is because domestic cats learn, in their interactions with their owners, their body language including specifically their facial expressions. Of course human facial expressions and general body language are an outward sign of human emotion.
Cats respond to human emotion which is displayed through body language. Jackson Galaxy says that cats mirror their human companion’s energy.
For example, if you are fearful and tentative hovering over a cat, he/she will sense that you don’t trust them. If you are nervous and trying to pet a cat in a tentative manner he might respond ‘inappropriately’ by seeing a hand as prey and swat it.
It is best to approach a cat confidently (without being overly confident and intimidating) if you don’t know a cat well. Domestic cats feed off the positive energy. Jackson calls it ‘energetics’. If you approach with ‘stillness and calm’ a cat’s behaviour mirrors this attitude.
I would endorse this advice. A close female friend of mind is nervous of my cat, Gabriel, and she risks getting scratched by her apprehensive approach and tentative hand movements.
Moriah Galvan and Jennifer Vonk of Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan carried out a study of 12 cats and their owners.
The found that cats respond to frowns and smiles differently. When their owners smiled, their cat responded more positively by purring, rubbing or sitting on their lap. They were also keener to spend more time with their owner compared to when they frowned.
They also found that cats did not respond in the same way when strangers smiled or frowned. Smiling or frowning made no difference to their behavior. This suggests that cats learn to read their owner’s facial expressions and therefore indirectly their emotions. In conclusion their research indicates that cats pick up on human emotions.