It’s talked about a lot amongst cat lovers and guardians; the feline slow-blink, which signals friendliness and contentedness and even love in a cat when they direct it at us.
Humans should do it for their cats because it supports and confirms the friendly bond between them. A scientific study has confirmed that the slow-blink is real and that it works. The researchers at the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, UK carried out two experiments. The first involved 21 cats from 14 households.
When cat owners slow-blinked at their cat companions it was more likely to be reciprocated i.e. returned by the cat compared with people who did not do it (their face remained passive).
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My personal view is that you don’t, strictly speaking, need to do the slow blink in front of your cat for your cat to reciprocate it. What you need to do is develop a routine in which you make a sound (usually a sound is most effective) or adopt body language which signals to your cat that you are loving towards him or her. Your cat will get into a rhythm about these moments and in response she will slow blink as a sign that she is content at which point you will be in harmony.
The second experiment involved the researchers substituting the cat’s owner. In other words they were strangers to the cats. In this experiment there were 45 participating cats aged between 1 and 17. If the researcher (a stranger to the cat) approached the cat with an outstretched hand after they had slow-blinked compared to when they had maintained a neutral expression, the cats were more likely to slow-blink at them.
The conclusion is that the human slow-blink sends a friendly signal to cats and it works both for strangers to the cat and to the cat’s owner. It is pleasing to know that science backs up what cat lovers and owners have known for some time. I would hope that many more people now do this.
How to do the slow-blink
What I like about this research study is that the leading scientist, Karen McComb, explains how humans should do the slow-blink. Incidentally, in 2009 the model Tyra Banks invented a word for smiling with your eyes. She called it to “smize”. She used it on the catwalk with success. And it can be incorporated into the human version of the feline slow-blink. Karen says that you should, “Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation”.
That’s how you do it. I have to mention Jackson Galaxy, the well-known American cat behaviourist because he is a great fan of the human slow-blink directed at feline companions. In his book Total Cat Mojo he writes on page 47 that, “Blinking slowly is a sign of contentment and relaxation, which is why we try to evoke the slow-blink when greeting or communicating with a cat”. On page 228 of his book he refers to the slow-blink as “a.k.a the “Cat I Love You”. He refers to a cat behaviourist who perhaps was the first to write about this technique, Anitra Frazier. She is the author of The Natural Cat. When she walked down the street and looked at cats framed in windows in New York she found that if she softened her face and gazed at the cat they would blink slowly at her. She took this as a cue to a friendly communication between her and the cats involved.
Jackson says that the signal communicates to the cat that they can trust you because you are becoming vulnerable when you blink. Bearing in mind that domestic cats are high quality predators if you face them and blink it is not something that an aggressive or hostile animal would do and therefore you cannot hostile but, in contrast, are vulnerable and trusting. That’s why it works.